Poems on Immigration in the United States

In 1876, the United States celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In honor of the event, the French sent a gift: a huge copper statue that represents liberty. Emma Lazarus, a Jew whose family had lived in the nation for generations, described the statue as: 


A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome....

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 1


In 1903, the year Emma Lazarus’s poem was carved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, nearly one out of every ten Americans was foreign born. A few years earlier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a Protestant whose family had also lived in the country for generations, responded to those newcomers with his own poem:

. . .

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates

And through them passes a wild motley throng— . . .

Flying the Old World’s poverty and scorn;

These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,

Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.

In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,

Accents of menace alien to our air,

Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!

O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well

To leave the Gates unguarded? . . . 2


[1] Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus," (1883).

[2] Thomas Bailey Aldrich, "Unguarded Gates," (1895).

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