Liberty Enlightening the World
Think her not a poor refugee
this modest, proper, gloved woman
of Jewish faith born on American soil.
And if she wore fame at all,
it hung brief in her shortened life.
Her rise to glory followed only in time
when her poetic words were inscribed
on the Statue of Liberty welcoming
the “wretched refuse” to the shores
of freedom’s land a century and half ago.
Hers was a privileged life in New York City,
dressed in upper-class, tutored at home
in classics, piano, and the arts.
Like well-heeled women of the day,
the cultivated Emma dwelt sheltered from the world.
Yet how she longed to accomplish
something meaningful, something of importance!
Who am I? she wondered. What purpose is mine?
One day a rabbi brought her to visit
Castle Garden on Ward’s Island, and there
on the tiny isle in New York harbor
where shiploads of weary, bewildered
European immigrants arrived, Emma witnessed
deep shades of darkness, such as she had never seen
or knew existed. Culture shock it was later called.
Amongst the impoverished and the throngs
of her ‘co-religionists’ who’d escaped
the Russian Czar’s marauding Cossack soldiers,
murdering Jews young and old,
burning their synagogues and villages—
she was profoundly moved. In short time, too,
she learned how iniquities were spun
of intolerance and hate.
No further need to wistfully ponder
her purpose. Emma found her voice.
She took up her pen, and with growing power
began writing on the human condition – verse,
essays and letters pleading for the refugee cause.
And with ferocity and depth she struck back
at mounting anti-Semitism.
Slowly a French ship made its way
across the Atlantic, carrying the gargantuan sections
of the statue – four-hundred and fifty tons in all –
designed and built by sculptor Auguste Bartholdi
which he’d called liberty enlightening the world.
Assembling it was long delayed for lack of funds
needed to build a large, supporting pedestal—
a promise of America in accepting the gift from France.
What last efforts might then be made
to raise the coffers? Ah, a few thinking minds
prevailed. A book! A book of new poems
by writers of the day. Auction to the highest bidder.
How pleased was Emma at the invitation
to make a contribution! With purpose and devotion
she set to penning a poem: The New Colossus,
ending with the eloquent and oft-recited verse:
Your Huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Yet by serendipity only fifteen years past
the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty 
was her sonnet inscribed on the pedestal.
A New York patron of the arts chanced
upon the small book in a dusty antique shop,
and upon reading The New Colossus
arranged for its inscription.
But Emma lived not to know of her honor.
She had died of lymphoma, aged thirty-eight.
With her own beacon she welcomed
the desolate many to America,
to breathe her nation’s air of freedom.
Once adorned in fashion, then swathed in shroud,
the poetic voice of Emma Lazarus
rang out for all humanity.