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Spectator competition winners: ‘Please quit all that huddling…’: contemporary takes on ‘The New Colossus’

10 June 2019

9:32 AM

10 June 2019

9:32 AM

The latest challenge was an invitation to compose a contemporary take on ‘The New Colossus’, the 1883 sonnet by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Written as part of an effort to raise money for the construction of the 89ft pedestal, the poem has spoken powerfully to successive generations. Today it is often invoked as a counterpoint to Donald Trump’s inflammatory xenophobic rhetoric, and most of you ran with this idea, producing accomplished if sometimes predictable entries.

The best are printed below and earn their authors £20 each. Commendations go to Ann Drysdale, Frank McDonald, R.M. Goddard and Ray Kelley, who all came at the challenge from a more oblique angle.

Basil Ransome-Davies
The goddess Libertas is poised erect,
Copper beneath her sheath of verdigris,
An emblem of two nations to respect
The true, republican equality
Inscribed in both their founding documents.
The vivid dream that lights her torch is noble —
To banish tyranny and ignorance —
Her cause compassionate, her vision global.
Who now desires to reaffix the chains
That lie inert and shattered at her feet?
Take Liberty away, and what remains
But an oppressor swollen with conceit,
A monstrous ego-wish devouring all,
Whose monument’s no statue but a wall?


Paul Freeman
The Giantess has turned a ghastly green;
sick-visagèd and unwelcoming of those
ill-fated folk who’ve taken to their toes.
Yet if their bloodline manifests a gene
our Lady craves, they’re honoured with a keen
acceptance; thus she strives to ever close
the door on creed and hue which might impose
a demographic shift from what has been.

‘Take heed!’ she cries. ‘I’m sealing off this land.
Oh fiery torch, deter the migrant ship!
This beacon is a cudgel in my hand,
this rigid grin a sneer upon my lip;
for pale-faced Evangelics are the brand
I choose to brave the trans-Atlantic trip.’

Brian Murdoch
Brazen (though not a giant, not at all),
Scoffing and sneering at all men and lands,
A self-important orange figure stands.
His nickname (his real one is rather small)
Is very, very easy to recall:
It’s ‘One Mean Mother’. His miniature hands
Uplift a middle digit. He commands
The building of an immigrant-proof wall.
I’ll make our country great again, tweets he,
So keep your wretched riff-raff well away,
Let teeming masses stay beyond the sea
Or let them huddle by the Mexique Bay.
I’m in charge, not old lady Liberty.
They can’t afford my hotels anyway.

Chris O’Carroll
Like a loud, brazen slut for wealth and fame,
Helpless astride what he can’t comprehend,
He’s weak and ignorant, but must pretend
He’s got the strength and smarts to win this game.
Atop a wall gold-lettered with his name
He plants vast sculpted feet as if to send
The message, ‘I will quickly put an end
To anyone who contradicts my claim
That Mexicans do every sort of crime
(And other Latin gangster types as well).
We’ve built this wall bad hombres cannot climb.
Our country’s locked like one vast prison cell.
Newcomers once found welcome in a rhyme,
But we don’t want you now, so go to Hell!’

Sylvia Fairley
Usurp this outsize woman with a flame
That lights the poor and needy of this land,
I seize the torch, this portal must be manned
By one of giant stature, not a dame.
The huddled masses I intend to tame
As by the harbour, manspreading, I stand;
The wretched refuse, foreigners, are banned
And with a wall I’ll curb the beaners’ game.
Then once I’ve quelled the threat from Mexico
I’ll look to ancient lands across the sea,
Bring an official end, I’ll lay them low.
I am the new colossus, I decree,
I raise my torch; its lustrous gleam will show
My god-like form, revealed for all to see.

Bill Greenwell
If you were sailing past this wave-worn plinth,
Its old words might have seemed mere platitudes
When speeches bloat around you, news is synth,
And the brave new world is in some nasty moods.
Unchiselled for the mean time, here are subs:
If you like malls, come in and have an eyeful;
Come in, if you like narcissistic clubs;
Enter at will, for an over-the-counter rifle.

Bombastic slogans, short-fuse rhetoricians,
Enough to go around; and redneck preachers.
America First! We don’t need your permissions.
If you are foreign now, you suck like leeches.
If things change, call. Right now there is no
      muddling,
And as for your masses, please quit all that
      huddling.

Sylvia O. Smith
Stop giving us your tired, your poor;
We’ll only make them poorer.
Your huddled masses looking for
Free air just make us sorer.
An exiled mother at the door?
We’ll snatch her kids, ignore her.
Obamacare? There’ll be no more —
Just pay a health insurer.
Let wretched refuse quit our shore,
And welcome, rich off-shorer!
But if you’re tempest-tost, unfed,
Here’s our advice to you: Drop dead!

Your next challenge is to encapsulate the life story of a well-known person, living or dead, in three limericks. Please email entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 19 June.


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