She Lifts Her Lamp

  by Maurice R. Franks

They took the lamp from out the torch
About the time they slammed the door,
And placed instead a lump of brass -
Fool's gold where flames had shone before.

Refurbished thus, this gift from France
With superficial gleam doth lure
A world naïve, nay, entranced
By ideals once so fresh and pure.

Shine that lamp on those in prison,
On ghetto children in despair.
Show the world our rapes and killings,
How racist thinking took us there.

A culture lost, its values gone,
Used needles shine from sea to sea.
Democracy shall ne'er last long
Too dumb to ask, "Why must this be?"

Truths now lost, truths now languish,
Truths for which our fathers died.
She holds her lamp aloft with anguish.
It's hollow, gnawing from inside.

Copyright © 1998, Maurice R. Franks


The present poem, She Lifts Her Lamp, alludes to the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York. The final words of that poem are, "I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

A contest was held in 1883 to find a suitable poem for the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and a Portuguese Jewish immigrant, Emma Lazarus, won with her entry, The New Colossus.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people (not the government) of France, and was funded by private donations. The gift was the idea of Edouard de Laboulaye, and he commissioned Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi to be the sculptor. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, designed the internal framework.

At the time of the statue's conceptualization in 1865 and its design in 1870, incandescent electric lighting had not yet been invented. Bartholdi's original design called for the flame in Liberty's torch to be a non-illuminated bronze representation of a flame.

By the time the statue was erected in 1886, however, Edison's 1879 invention was available. The Americans responsible for erecting this gift from France substituted a huge glass flame for Bartholdi's bronze one, illuminating the flame electrically from inside. This glass flame served Liberty for a century.

On the statue's centennial in 1986, much-needed structural repairs were accomplished. And at that time those refurbishing the statue decided to return to the solid bronze image of the flame, as called for in the original, pre-electric plans.

In the present poem there are also numerous other references and allusions to The New Colossus.

Obviously, the present poem is critical of certain developments in modern America. Perhaps it should also be compared, both in terms of content and structure, with Irish poet Thomas Moore's The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls.

Go to Emma Lazarus's poem, The New Colossus.

Or go to Thomas Moore's The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls.

Or return to the Forecourt.

Copyright 1998 by M. R. Franks - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED