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
"Liberty Enlightening The World",
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:

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 graffiti 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? Liberty, on its own, as enshrined in the the Bill of Rights, informs members of society what they are entitled to expect from their society; an idealism focused on the individual, inwardly. But Bartholdi's Statue is of Liberty Enlightening The World, and that is an idealism that goes outwards, 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 not the same as Freedom. Liberty alone is a euphemism for privilege. Where is the American who is ready to erect a similar statue amid the waters of the Rio Grande, and enscribe on its pedestal a sonnet that will inspire a Statute of Responsibilities?

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