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Reflections 2011
Series 11
March 25
Winter Miscellanea - Astor Hall - 3 Queens - P Verlaine - E Lazarus

 

Winter Miscellanea   There are a number of items to report on that happened between coming back to New York from the RTW trip via Australia in early October and leaving for Florida in mid-February, then continuing on to Brazil, in mid-March.

 
 

NEW YORK BLIZZARD OF 2010 I must have angered the snow gods. In 2010/25, dated December 15, as an introduction to “The Ice Sheet”, I mentioned how the Blizzard of 1947 in New York that I recalled vividly from when we lived on Jerome Street had been the most severe since the infamous one of 1888, and its snowfall depth of 26.4 in (671 mm) was not surpassed until 2006. I also pointed out that it struck on December 26-27, the two days after Christmas. Well, in 2010, on Christmas Day, I took the LIRR to family in Merrick. Also, on New Year’s Eve, I took the LIRR to Malverne. That’s the easy part of the story; what happened in between those two rail trips was the problem.

 
 

The day after Christmas, just eleven days after that Ice Sheet posting, another blizzard struck New York. It occurred on December 26-27, just like that earlier one, although the worst of it struck the first day. The region was hit by 12-22 in (30-81 cm) of snow, but measurement was difficult due to the snowdrifts caused that first morning up to 4 ft (120 cm) caused by high winds. The official reading in Central Park was 20 in (510 mm), ranking it as the sixth most severe blizzard ever in New York.

 
 

It stopped the LIRR in its tracks (no pun intended). Some trains were frozen to platforms. It also stopped most outlying subway lines, particularly the ones that used to be railroads running south in open cuts in Brooklyn and on that causeway in Queens going over to Rockaway. One A-Train with 400 passengers was notoriously stranded on the causeway for seven hours starting at 1 AM. NJT stopped running, and Metro North was only able to run occasional diesel trains--not electrics--into Grand Central. City streets and highways were similarly blocked. What had I done? What hath my 1947 recollection wrought?

 
 

During that week things gradually improved. LIRR and other rail service returned, subways began running their full routes again, and as streets got cleared for cars, bus service spottily returned, but not enough for me to rely on it. But my particular problem arose that first day. The storm had hit hardest overnight, and by late afternoon, there were reports broadcast of improvements. But just the week before, I’d bought myself online a theater ticket. What was I to do? Would the play be cancelled? Phoning the theater or the City’s emergency 311 number just got busy signals. What to do, especially given limited subway service?

 
 

In the end, I dug out my good ol’ calf-high boots (I literally had to dust them off, since they’re so rarely needed) and plodded through the shoveled sidewalks between mounds of piled-up snow at the curb. There was no road traffic, and crossing at intersections was iffy because of slush (which in subsequent days became large puddles). But the Rector Street Station of the # 1 subway line wasn’t far, and I made it, arriving at Times Square a little later. Everyone was dressed as Nanook of the North, including the out-of-towners in a very busy Times Square. And the theater was jam-packed full, with only the odd seat here and there. Success!

 
 

The rather special show I had a ticket for was Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. It was a stellar performance, but also of interest before it started and during the intermission was the talk with other theatergoers of how they had successfully made it to the theater.

 
 

Some time later I also went to see The Importance of Being Ernest, the perennial Oscar Wilde favorite of 1895. I had originally seen on TV years ago the classic 1952 film version with a formidable cast of Michael Redgrave, Joan Greenwood, Margaret Rutherford, and none other than Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell, and a few years ago had seen my first live performance at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, but this one had been well-reviewed, and of particular interest was the fact that Brian Bedford would be playing Lady Bracknell. It’s not unheard of for a man to play the Formidable Victorian Presence that is Lady Bracknell, but Bedford, as I’d heard, gave her the deep-voiced commanding authority that the role requires, to great amusement.

 
 

THE KING’S SPEECH I saw two films of great interest before the holiday period. Although I don’t choose to be involved in the Facebook craze, I find the story of its development to be engrossing, and was eager to see The Social Network, the dramatization of that story. I don’t think billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is an individual of great sympathy, but Jesse Eisenberg portrayed him very well in what was essentially a courtroom drama not set in a courtroom but largely around a negotiating table. I considered it, as many did, the strongest contender for best film (it did win three Oscars) until I saw The King’s Speech. Though we often discuss language here, we rarely refer to the pathology of speech, such as the stammer that George VI, the present Queen’s father, suffered, and the help given him by Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. That is the entire plot of the film, but it’s the presentation that’s masterful, as is the development of the relationship between the two, such as how Logue insists he call the king by the name used only by the family, Bertie. Colin Firth plays the king, Australian actor Geoffrey Rush plays Logue, and Helena Bonham Carter plays Queen Elizabeth, the present queen’s mother.

 
 

It is the background of the making of the film that has its own interesting story. I've been watching BBC-America quite a bit lately (Law & Order: UK is excellent; the Graham Norton Show is the most entertaining talk show in a long time) and BBC-America recently showed a half-hour film about the making of the movie, with all the participants commenting. At a later date, CBS’s 60 Minutes did an interesting segment on it as well.

 
 

I was particularly interested in finding out that the director, Tom Hooper, born in London, was both English (father) and Australian (mother), so he had a particularly personal reason for, as he said, "getting it right". Hooper pointed out that they really wanted Helena Bonham Carter, but she was finishing up work on a Harry Potter film, so they rescheduled themselves to accommodate her appearance. The actors complimented the researchers for finding Mark Logue, Lionel's grandson, in London only nine weeks before filming, who only then discovered Lionel’s diaries and notebooks in an attic, and gave the researchers access to them. Details were then incorporated into the film, which was already in pre-production, altering and fleshing out the script. Geoffrey Rush in particular said he was glad he didn't have to make up Lionel's personality, but could be guided by the diaries. He specifically referred to the exchange where Lionel says that Bertie still stumbled on W's, to which Bertie replied it's not so bad--the people still had to recognize it was the king speaking. As they pointed out, the only time that exchange took place before the film was made was when Lionel and Bertie actually said it. Colin Firth commented that he and Rush had quite accurately described the relationship between Lionel and Bertie as a "bromance".

 
 

I haven’t heard anyone else point out the dual meaning in the title of the film. The king had had difficulty with public speaking in the past because of his stammer, and with the outbreak of WWII, he’d have to give a radio speech to the nation, which is the speech the title refers to. However, in making the speech, he’d have to control his speaking (“speech”) problem. I can’t see that dual meaning being easily translated into other languages.

 
 

The speech is shown being presented in a small, isolated room in Buckingham Palace, with Lionel coaching Bertie on the other side of the microphone. There are three unusual aspects of this: Bertie is not behind a desk, but standing; he takes off his jacket; an attendant opens a window. It was pointed out on 60 Minutes that all three of these unusual steps were discovered in the diary, each being a device in helping Bertie to relax and concentrate on getting it right.

 
 

The script was written by David Seidler, who himself had suffered from a stammer in childhood. Years ago, he wrote to Queen Mother Elizabeth for her permission to tell the story, but she replied that it was too painful for her, and would prefer he not do it in her lifetime, to which he agreed. However he didn’t expect he’d have to wait a quarter century, since she lived until age 101.

 
 

The film got seven BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), for Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Best Actor (Firth), Best Supporting Actor (Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Carter), Best Original Screenplay (Seidler), and Best Film Music. Colin Firth got the Golden Globe for Best Actor. There were some dozen Oscar nominations, and it won four, all in major categories: Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Original Screenplay (Seidler), Best Actor (Firth), and Best Picture of 2010.

 
 

THE SUNLANDER I belong to SIRT, the Society of International Railway Travelers (http://www.irtsociety.com), and Eleanor Hardy, who runs day-to-day operations, usually takes care of my special rail tickets, which this trip included those in Australia and Singapore. Shortly after I got back, we spoke on the phone for some 90 minutes. I didn't consider it at the time a debriefing, but that's apparently what it was, since she later informed me that she’d published, and later referred to, my comments about the Sunlander between Brisbane and Cairns.

 
 

On the SIRT website, under the heading Celebrating the World’s Top 25 Trains: The Sunlander, appeared this excerpt from what I’d said about the Australian trains I’d ridden:

 
 
 Without a doubt, the best one was the Sunlander in Queenslander [Class, which was] . . . wonderful. They had all these extras. Within five minutes of boarding, they announced punch was being served in the lounge. Then it was tea time [with]. . . lovely service. On the last day, coming into Cairns, there was even a [last-minute cold] supper. The room was beautiful [and had]. . . inlaid marquetry. It was just gorgeous. I was so taken with Australia, I know I want to go back. I enjoyed the Sunlander enough that I might consider doing that one again.
— V. DiNapoli, Society of IRT Pullman Club Member, Sunlander, August 2010
 
 

Then on the SIRT blog, “TRACK 25” she wrote the following under the title “Sun Setting on the Sunlander”:

 
 
 It is so, so discouraging one day to get a fantastic report on a train and just about two days later, to get a report that the powers that be are planning to shut it down.

The report we received was from world traveler Dr. Vincent DiNapoli. He loved all of the extras, the service, the warmth, the old-fashioned happy surprises that happen on a lovely top-class train. And he found all of this in Queenslander Class on the Sunlander, which runs 1,045 miles [1,682 km] several times a week between Brisbane and Cairns. He just took this train this summer, along with all the other major routes in Australia. And Queenslander Class on the Sunlander was his favorite. . . .

Then we got the news that Queensland Rail will be running this train only through 2013, when it will be replaced with a faster tilt-train. We are sure the rail-travel lovers of the world won’t be as happy with this, and it’s such a shame. I hate to be a naysayer, but what good does it do to save a few hours on such a scenic route? Speed is not what people want on a vacation train. Beauty, scenery, camaraderie: there’s the ticket.

So a word to the wise: Ride the Sunlander in Queenslander Class while you can. You might have until the end of 2013.
 
 

On reading those comments, I wrote Eleanor:

 
 
 Although the news you report is at first depressing, I wanted to research the situation a bit more before responding. Given that Choice A is to retain the Sunlander/Queenslander Class as is, Choice B to accept the Tilt Train is not a bad alternative. As you know, the Tilt Train runs presently on the same route, although one of them is out of service because of an accident. It IS faster. While the Sunlander northbound, as I did it, covers Brisbane-Cairns in just under 30 hours (roughly an hour longer southbound), the present northbound Tilt Train does it in about 24 hours, early evening to early evening (6:30-ish). Granted, it's less of a trip, but it can still be a pleasant evening, and one travels extensively during the daylight hours the following day.

Apparently the Tilt Train at present has no sleepers, but that's not important, since the new ones, due to come in before the Sunlander change, will be upgraded, as I found on their website: We’re purchasing another Tilt Train and upgrading our existing fleet. Our new trains will include sleeper carriages, as well as flat-seat sleepers, a club lounge, dining car and new power cars. They’ll feature more comfortable carriages, better entertainment systems and improved disability access, which we will couple with improvements in customer service.

The artist's drawings here show modern luxury. I like the look of the sleeper and look of the windows on the dining car. As you know, as much as I appreciate historical artifacts such as marquetry, I also deeply appreciate the modern look of Japan's Shinkansen, say, and the Eurostar. I'd like to see them retain the Sunlander, but I’d hope that the upgraded Tilt Train could be a reasonable alternative.
 
 

EARTHQUAKES I seem to have done it again, but earlier, and with more serious consequences. Before I angered the snow gods in 2010, I must have angered the earthquake gods in 2009. In that year I was in both Christchurch NZ in April and in northern Japan in November. It took a while after my visits, but then all hell broke loose in both places. Of course, the fact that both New Zealand and Japan are located on the western edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire didn’t help matters. As a matter of fact, both countries having a long, banana shape indicates their location along a fault line.

 
 

I am so enamored of Christchurch (2009/10-11), and enjoyed staying right on Cathedral Square, opposite the Cathedral that was built slowly over forty years, from 1864 to 1904 (my hotel was the building on the left). The quake on 4 September 2010 had no fatalities, but quite a bit of destruction, such as in this nearby street, with the Cathedral in the background. This is a crack in a street in a nearby coastal suburb, and this is a pedestian footbridge over that beautiful Avon River.

 
 

But only 5 ½ months later, on 22 February 2011, a much more serious quake struck. On my visit, I was aware of how many Japanese language students come to Christchurch to study English, and saw some of their excursion groups on the Avon. Apparently 23 Japanese students went missing in the collapse of a television office building in the second quake. There were enough fatalities that I read that some people were planning on leaving Christchurch and never coming back, which is reminiscent of what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. Also, after the second quake, it’s estimated that about one-third of the buildings in the central business district, many of them historic and giving character to the city, will have to be demolished. The tower of the Cathedral collapsed in the second quake--here’s a view across Cathedral Square at present. Finally, this view from above shows not only the damaged tower, but the whole Cathedral, which I understand will have to be demolished as well. I wonder if my hotel on the left will also have to be demolished.

 
 

My connection with the Japan quake on 11 March 2011 is much more tangential, but involves my trip north to the island of Hokkaido. In 2009/38, Day 9 described my long train trip in the late afternoon by conventional train north from Nikko to Hakodate. In 2009/39, Day 11 described my overnight train trip in a sleeper south from Sapporo to Tokyo. Both these trips were along the coast that was hit by the quake, the tsunami, and the nuclear power plant damage, and I went right through Sendai, the larger city in that area. I also read at the time of this quake that three passenger trains were unaccounted for in the Sendai area, although I haven’t heard anything else since about them other than that key rail lines remain impassable.

 
 

Astor Hall - New York Public Library   During the holiday season in December there were as usual a number of enjoyable get-togethers with friends and family, but the highlight for me is usually the Middlebury reception, and this year, Middlebury College's New York Alumni again found an eye-popping location in the City for it. For years they’ve found spectacular venues, most recently the University Club, the Boathouse in Central Park, and twice in the American Museum of Natural History, once in the vast entrance hall including the famous animal dioramas, and the second time in the Sea Life room underneath the large whale model. The reception this year was once again in a spectacular entrance hall, but this one was Astor Hall of the 1911 Main Branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Astor Hall, with its white marble staircases on either side leading to a center balcony, is right behind the façade backing the monumental staircase flanked by the famous lions, Patience and Fortitude. (They’re named left-to-right, so the picture shows Fortitude. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1930’s gave the lions the names of virtues needed to survive the Great Depression.) In the late ‘70's Beverly and I did considerable doctoral research for our Middlebury work in the Main Reading Room of the building that researchers usually refer to as simply "42nd Street", so I suppose what goes around comes around.

 
 

Three Queens   This past January, Cunard once again had a “meeting of the Queens” in New York Harbor. On 25 April 2004 the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 met (2004/8) and on 13 January 2008, those two again were on the scene along with the new Queen Victoria (2008/1). This time, three years later to the day, on 13 January 2011, the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria, and the new Queen Elizabeth would meet. This time I invited four friends who were “sail” fans over for a deli supper to watch the winter sunset and see the ships, Paul and Marya, and Dave and Leslie. (Paul and Marya had just gotten off the new Queen Elizabeth that day.) We had a pleasant evening, and when it was “meeting” and fireworks time, we all congregated at the windows. While Dave opened a window for picture taking, Paul bundled up and spent time outside on the balconette.

 
 

As happened last time, while the other ships came down from Midtown, the QM2 came up from Brooklyn and, to everyone’s delight, did its pirouette in place in front of my windows, as described in 2008/1. I enjoyed how much the others enjoyed it, but was just a bit blasé, since it did the same thing in the same place before. This clip from YouTube shows the 2011 meeting of the Three Queens at the Statue of Liberty, with fireworks.

 
 

Paul Verlaine   People who study French most likely will come across at one time or another a well-known poem by Paul Verlaine, whose first four lines are particularly famous. Every time I look out a window to a gray, rainy day, Verlaine’s moody lines come to mind, and when friend Paul (above) emailed one day about it raining, since he and Marya speak French, I quoted him the lines, and he said they were also a favorite of his:

 
 
 Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?
It cries in my heart
As it rains on the town;
What is this languor
Penetrating my heart?
 
 

Comments on the Verlaine You don’t get anyone painting a better picture of melancholy brought on by a gray, rainy day. He doesn’t use end rhyme, but maintains an internal monotony based on ÖR (appearing once as just Ö), used five times in four lines: pleure, coeur, pleut (Ö), langueur, coeur; the double use in the first line is particularly striking. This monotony supports the melancholy theme. He takes advantage of the happy similarity in French between the two major actions he’s describing: “il pleure” and “il pleut”.

 
 

Comments on the Translation I would agree if Verlaine were to say Quelle folie! / What folly! in such an attempt to translate poetry and maintain any semblance of the original. What to do with “il pleure”? Longer phrases like: there’s a lamenting / mourning / sobbing / sighing / weeping / crying? I think not. Shorter phrases like: it sobs, it sighs, it weeps, it cries? “Sobs” is too intense; “sighs” is too mild. Teardrops imitate rain, but “weeps” is too archaic, so I chose “cries”. If you like “weeps” better, replace it.

 
 

“Langueur” is listlessness, lassitude, lethargy, languor. The first three have too many syllables, so I stuck with “languor” which imitates the French, although fewer people might recognize its meaning.

 
 

An iamb is da-DUM (- /). An anapest is da-da-DUM (- - /). Verlaine’s first line uses one of each, totaling five syllables, and his second line is two anapests, totaling six. He then repeats this in the last two lines. So what am I supposed to do?

 
 

“Ville” is usually translated as “city”, but also “town”. I prefer the first, but “town” has only one syllable, which is what I needed, so I chose it. “Qui pénètre” is “that penetrates”, but the rhythm is wrong, so I made it “penetrating”, which fits better. But all in all, Quelle folie. [There is a more complete discussion of this poem in its entirety, including its correct title, ahead in 2011/15.]

 
 

Adapting Verlaine Translating well is difficult, especially poetry, so why not summon up some chutzpah and try adapting, perhaps into an affectionate, mild parody? A short while after the Verlaine emails, Paul invited me to Brooklyn to their pied-à-terre in Carroll Gardens for drinks and to go out to a local French restaurant (where we later all enjoyed speaking French with the owner). As I left my building, there was a sudden burst of snow flurries lasting just a moment, but it was enough to get me thinking. Why not adapt Verlaine from rain to snow? I worked on it in my head during the short subway ride to Brooklyn, and this was the result I presented to Paul and Marya:

 
 
  Il gèle dans mon coeur
Quand il neige sur la ville;
Où se trouve une chaleur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?
It freezes in my heart
When it snows on the town;
Where is there a warmth
To penetrate my heart?
 
 

Do not evaluate the English translation, which is only presented as a guide to the meaning of the French adaption. Evaluate instead the French as well as you can. I could only come up with three examples of ÖR, including the new “chaleur”. The iambs and anapests all work, once you realize that “Où se trouve” is only two syllables long: ooss.TROOV. Parodying Verlaine is a ballsy move, but I hope it added to the francophone evening--and to the presentation here.

 
 

Emma Lazarus   When you hear the line quoted that starts “Give me your tired”, your thoughts jump to the Statue of Liberty, and possibly to the name of the person who wrote those words, Emma Lazarus. I was not planning on discussing two poems back-to-back. I was going to discuss Lazarus as part of the last posting that included the Brooklyn Bridge--you’ll soon see why--but it got too long, and Lazarus can easily stand on her own.

 
 

What I’ve learned in recent years is that one always knows less than one had thought. I thought I had an idea what an atoll was until I researched more for the posting about Bora Bora. I thought I knew a bit about Marco Polo until I dug deeper for the posting about his trip to China, not via Europe but from the Middle East, where to my amazement was where the Silk Road (Routes) actually started. I find one’s knowledge is always skimpy and needs filling out. And so to Emma Lazarus. So she wrote that quote about the Statue. End of story? Not quite. Some research from websites dedicated to her as well as Wikipedia tells us more.

 
 

Emma Lazarus lived from 1849 to 1887, which means she died a young woman, at 38. The decade that she died in, the 1880’s, was also an interesting one in the development of New York harbor, which adds to her story. She’s known as an author, which, being a poet, is obvious, but also as an activist, which adds a dimension of further substance.

 
 

As a poet, she was a correspondent of Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a woman of letters, she knew several languages other than English, especially German, and she edited many adaptions of German poems, and translated Goethe and Heinrich Heine into English.

 
 

I had long been curious about just where she lived, and I was able to determine online that to this day, her former home, the Emma Lazarus Residence, is at 18 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, just west of Fifth Avenue.

 
 

She had deep roots in the city, since her family had been settled in New York since the colonial period, when significant numbers of Portuguese Sephardic Jews had arrived from Brazil. (Starting in the 16C, a majority of Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Portugal went to Brazil, often forming communities with Dutch Jews. When the Inquisition later reached those communities, they left Brazil, often for Dutch colonies such as Curaçao, where a Jewish community still exists, and New Amsterdam (New York), where they formed a new community. Many people today do not realize that Sephardic Jews have a longer and deeper history in New York than the Ashkenazic Jews that today form a majority. Synagogs were also formed in Newport RI and Philadelphia. [I am writing about this Brazil-New York connection as my ship headed for the Amazon is about to enter Brazil. What goes around, comes around.] )

 
 

So what sort of activism was she involved in, and how did it affect her poetry? The quick answer is assisting immigrants, so that she, in her most famous poem, singlehandedly reversed the significance of the Statue of Liberty. This whets the appetite for detail.

 
 

This is not meant to be the history of the Statue of Liberty; it’s assumed one is aware that France gave it to the US; Bartholdi designed it; Eiffel designed the interior framework. The issue that arises here is where was the statue to be put. New York had an island in the harbor ready to go, but a large statue needs a rather large pedestal, which was the problem.

 
 

Funding for a pedestal was not provided by any governmental agency, and a crisis developed. Here France was gifting a statue to the United States, and there was no way to properly display it on the intended island. Boston and Philadelphia had each agreed to provide funding for a pedestal, but provided the statue be moved to their city.

 
 

Fundraising for the statue had begun in 1882, and a committee was formed, which organized a large number of money-raising events. One of them was an auction of art and manuscripts, and Emma Lazarus, as a known poet, was asked to donate an original work on the subject. She initially declined to do so, saying she couldn’t write a poem about a statue.

 
 

This is the point where her activism apparently changed her mind. Her family being well established and comfortable, she’d had experience living in Newport RI as well as in New York. But she was aware of how the immigrant experience in general contrasted with the lives of better-off, established New Yorkers, and was particularly aware of the experience of Jewish refugees who had fled pogroms in eastern Europe, since she did work helping them, and saw them living in conditions she had never experienced. She may have also reflected on her own ancestral heritage of moving from Portugal to Brazil to New York. From all of this she saw a way to express her feelings about immigration in poetry by making a donation after all of a poem about the Statue to the fund-raising drive, which she did the next year, in 1883. By coincidence, this was also the year the other harbor monument, the Brooklyn Bridge, opened.

 
 

[Incidentally, Emma Larazus was an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. She argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Theodor Herzl began to use the term “Zionism” (which will be discussed in an upcoming posting).]

 
 

Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, to promote further interest in gaining contributions for the pedestal, said he’d publish the name of every contributor no matter how small the contribution, and some funds in miniscule amounts came in from children and others. Still, even with the success of the overall fund drive, the pedestal was not completed until April 1886, and the Statue was dedicated in October of that year.

 
 

Lazarus went to Europe twice, in early 1885, before the completion of the pedestal and erection of the Statue, and again in late 1887. But on this second trip she was diagnosed in Europe with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sailed back to New York seriously ill, and died two months later, in November 1887. At this point, Lazarus’s sonnet had hardly been noticed, but it is ironic that, given that her poem had the Statue welcoming those arriving by ship, as she sailed into the harbor for the last time, she was too sick to come out on deck, and so she never saw the completed Statue she’d written about and with which she would eventually be so closely associated.

 
 

After Lazarus’s death, Georgina Schuyler, a New York patron of the arts, was reviewing Lazarus’s personal effects and came across a small portfolio of poems written in 1883, including The New Colossus, Lazarus’s name for her sonnet to the Statue. She was struck by the poem, and was in a position to arrange to have the last 4 ½ lines of the poem--even today, the most famous ones--published, eventually appearing in children’s textbooks, and become a permanent part of the Statue itself. In 1903, a bronze tablet commemorating Emma Lazarus and bearing the complete, fourteen-line text of The New Colossus was presented by friends of the poet, so that the text of the poem so thoroughly associated with the Statue of Liberty (click to enlarge for detail) was at one with it. It has appeared at various locations in and on the pedestal, and is now in the museum at the Statue’s base.

 
 

CHANGE IN SIGNIFICANCE What the French considered when they conceived of the Statue is different from what it came to mean after Lazarus’s poem. For the French it was political. They wanted to show liberty, particularly American liberty, as the path to take for those countries of Europe who were still battling oppression. They used as a symbol the Roman goddess Libertas, who was the embodiment of liberty (her name is also the Latin word for “liberty”). The significance of their representation was an OUTWARD one, particularly moving eastbound, which is obvious from the name they gave the Statue: La Liberté éclairant le monde, or Liberty Enlightening the World. In simpler words, liberty emanating from America would change Europe for the better.

 
 

(Note two things about the name then as opposed to the name now: (1) the last three words of the original name have essentially been forgotten, and (2) “La Statue de” or “The Statue of” was never meant to be the integral part of the name that it has become today. Actually the word “Statue” has fully devoured the rest of the name--see below.)

 
 

But Lazarus’s activism, and therefore, her poem, reversed this significance into an INWARD one, moving westbound, implying no particular concern with improving conditions in Europe; Europe should just send its dissatisfied to the US instead, who would take the unwanted. Lazarus made the Statue primarily a symbol of immigration based on freedom in the US, and secondarily, of freedom in general. And she did it with fourteen lines of poetry--particularly just the last 4 ½.

 
 

THE NEW COLOSSUS It’s time to look closely at just what it was that Emma Lazarus wrote.

 
 
 
The New Colossus


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
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; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"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!"
 
 

A sonnet has 14 lines, usually in the pattern 4-4-4-2, in other words, three stanzas of four lines each, plus a couplet. Lazarus plays around with that pattern here, and the rhyme scheme is a guide.

 
 

What could have been the first two stanzas, each rhymed a-b-b-a, are joined together by a sentence that runs on between them to unify them into an exposition describing the Statue and its location.

 
 

What would have been the third stanza and couplet are then also joined together, but this time by a common rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b, and are almost exclusively dialog, including the most famous quote.

 
 

Lazarus makes perfectly clear, both in the title and in the first two lines, that she’s making a Classical reference, in this case to Greece, something that is typical for the period. She does so by citing the Colossus of Rhodes, but as typifying just the opposite of what is here at hand, which is neither brazen nor conquering, and not a bellicose male image, but a peaceful female image.

 
 

She describes New York harbor and the United States as being sea-washed, pointing out that one has to cross the sea to get there, and in the sunset, that is, west of Europe. The torch’s flame is described as imprisoned lightning, in other words, liberty. Said more directly: “Sail west for liberty!”.

 
 

Just in case her drift in changing the significance of the Statue hasn’t yet become apparent, she next calls the Statue the Mother of Exiles offering “world-wide welcome”. Oxymoronically, she speaks “with silent lips” (well it IS a statue!) and then speaks her famous, welcoming lines.

 
 

Who is the “me” of “Give me your tired”? It’s not literally the Statue, not even as the “Mother of Exiles”. It’s not US liberty in general, which is “enlightening the world” as the French called it. It’s Lazarus’s United States as it welcomes immigrants.

 
 

It is curious that the first group called to come is the tired, those sick and tired with life as it has been. Only then does she refer to economic and political exiles. She has them enter by the “golden door”, a strait which would be the Narrows leading into Upper New York Bay, which is curiously parallel to San Francisco’s strait leading into San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate.

 
 

TWO MONUMENTS You may have noticed that I skipped over the significance of the eighth line, and that’s because I wanted to discuss it separately, since it has nothing to do anyway with immigrants, liberty, or even poetry, for that matter. Actually, given recent postings, this line was the reason why I wanted to discuss Emma Lazarus in the first place. The line mentions that the Statue looks out on "The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame", which begs the questions: What twin cities? What air bridge?

 
 

Emma Lazarus was proud of the fact that the harbor hosting this new statue was bordered by the twin cities of New York (Manhattan) and Brooklyn. Remember that she wrote the sonnet in 1883, which was fifteen years before the twin cities were consolidated in 1898. I always had had the impression for some reason that Lazarus lived in Brooklyn, which is why I wanted to determine (above) just where she did live, which turned out to be in New York (Manhattan).

 
 

So in 1883, what else beside the growing Statue could it have been that Lazarus and all New Yorkers and Brooklynites were immensely proud of in the harbor? Her “air bridge” is of course the Brooklyn Bridge that opened that year, soaring through the air (look again at the Currier & Ives print of the Bridge in 2011/10) framed by the twin cities. And so it’s right in the middle of the sonnet that she reflects on the prestigious twin monuments that reflect the prestigious twin cities.

 
 

THE STATUE’S PRESENCE We can experiment to see just what we really perceive about the Statue’s presence by shortening the name. Let’s suggest other statues, such as the statue of Lincoln (or Jefferson) in Washington. Let’s choose another Classical god, such as the god of wine, Bacchus. Shorten each of these phrases to just the first or last word, to whichever one seems more likely you would say: “the Statue of Lincoln”, “the Statue of Bacchus”, and “the Statue of Liberty” in the sentence: “Note the look on _______’s face”.

 
 

Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, I’d say “Note the look on Lincoln’s face”. Seeing a classical figure at a wine festival, I’d say “Note the look on Bacchus’s face”. Standing on the Staten Island ferry, I’d say “Note the look on the Statue’s face”.

 
 

To me this proves the following: in the first case, we see Lincoln, even in stone, and that it’s a statue is secondary to the experience. But you may say that’s because he was a real figure, not an allegory. Yet in the second case, we also see that it’s Bacchus first, and a statue secondarily. But just the reverse is true with the Statue of Liberty. We see it primarily as a monumental presence, and what it represents, important as in might be, is secondary. It would be, not impossible, but rare that someone might say “Note the look on Liberty’s face”. We’d say “Look at Lincoln! Look at Bacchus! Look at the Statue!” You’d never hear someone say as they sail by “Look at Liberty!” Note the title of this section, where I just refer to “the Statue” and not to “Liberty”, and count the times in this entire essay where that happens, and you’ll recognize this phenomenon that today we recognize the Statue’s (!!!) massive presence as a monument first, just a moment before we think of its symbolism. The word “Statue” has devoured the rest of the name.

 
 

APPROPRIATENESS OF LOCATION The Statue could not have been placed in a more appropriate and thrilling location, on its island looking out the Narrows toward arriving ships. But exciting as it still may be to us today to see both it and its splendid location, the Statue is no longer fully appropriate in that location, at least not as much as it was up to the mid 20C. While it maintains its symbolism of freedom in general and immigration in particular, it has little practical value to inspire immigrants, since primarily only freighters and pleasure ships sail into the harbor today. Especially for the immigration aspect, and with tongue in cheek, we can suggest the Statue be moved to Kennedy airport, perhaps, or, in a devilish vein, to the Mexican border.

 
 
 
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