Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Statute of Liberty

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
was the French sculptor who
     in 1875
received the commission 
to construct the statue of
using copper sheets 
hammered into shape 
     by hand
assembled over a framework of 
four gigantic steel supports
          designed by 
Eugene-Emmanuel Violet-le-Duc
(the same man who had restored 
Sainte Chapelle and Notre-Dame)
and Alexander-Gustave Eiffel
(yes, that Eiffel)

The statue stands 151 feet and 1 inch high
   and weighs 225 tons
      (not including the pedestal)

It stands in Fort Wood
   on Bedloe's Island
      in the Upper New York Bay
and was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland
                   on October 28th 1886

The pedestal
which more than doubles its height
carries a plaque inscribed with a sonnet:

               THE NEW COLOSSUS

               Emma Lazarus

               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 harbour that twin cities frame.
               "Keep, ancient lands, your stories 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!"

As a poem it is moderately indifferent, moderately competent; certainly not a poem that would be remembered, let alone anthologised, if it had not been used as street-art to legitimately graffito such an important monument, like a hieroglyph upon a Pharaonic stele. 

Like "Hail To The Chief", the anthem written to honour the President of the United States in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I wonder how many Americans even know that there is a poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, let alone that it is this poem. 

And how many know the statue's full name, which goes much further than mere Liberty?

Rabbi Hillel once explained "Love thy neighbour as thyself" in Leviticus 19:18 as "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

Thus, Liberty, on its own, as enshrined in the the American Bill of Rights, informs members of that society what they are entitled to expect from that society; an idealism focused on the individual, inwardly. Entitlement as a form of selfishness, of egocentricity, a monomania, an inwardness. All about me.

But Bartholdi's Statue is of "Liberty Enlightening The World", and that is an idealism that goes outwards (yes, even as far as Cuba, as Mexico, as North Korea), recognising that no man or woman is truly free when other of their fellow beings are enslaved (Shelley's "A Call To Freedom" comes to mind as poetry in similar vein), informing men and women of their responsibility beyond themselves. 

Liberty is by no means the same thing as Freedom, and Freedom now has its own monument, visible on the left of the illustration - and with what seems to be an abstract of the Eiffel Tower in its inner structure - where the World Trade Centre stood until a different sort of freedom took the liberty to destroy it, on September 11th 2001

Liberty alone is a euphemism for privilege. Where is the American who is ready to erect a similar statue (a statue, not a wall, please) amid the waters of the Rio Grande, and enscribe on its pedestal a sonnet that will inspire a Statute of Responsibilities?

You can find David Prashker at:

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