Friday, July 13, 2007

The New Colossus

by 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 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!"

* * *

She's talking about the Statue of Liberty -- the famous sign to immigrants that they are welcome, no matter how much like "wretched refuse" they may seem in their current condition. The poor, illiterate immigrants who arrived to Ellis Island as little as a hundred years ago, often not even speaking English, have had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who would give reality to their dreams: this is a land of opportunity, and their descendants have proved it by their success.

I posted it because it seems very relevant to the current immigration debate. I know this is a poetry blog and not a politics blog -- because I understand poetry much better than politics -- but I'd still like to hear people's ideas on the subject. I have some opinions, but they're not very well-formed because I lack good information about both sides. I'm hoping people from every side of the issue will comment here and we can have some fruitful discussion on the subject -- not to take down other people's ideas, but to exchange thoughts.

What do you say? Are you for more open borders, or less? How is new immigration to be regulated? Is the good of the country opposed to the good of those who wish to come to it, and if so, whose needs come first?


Anonymous said...

Actually since poetry is a matter of rules - indeed, of laws - as well as of liberties, it is a well-chosen topic.

Simply put: if there is no border, there are no immigrants - but then there are no countries either. So there must be some form of regulation. In the essence of this blogg, one might say if there is no "rule" to the poem, then any words, any symbols, no matter what their relation, constitute a poem. But that's silly. The telephone book is hardly a poem, even though Chesterton says "The greatest of poems is an inventory." [Orthodoxy CW1:267] (hee hee)

Here's more from our favourite Uncle Gilbert on this matter: immediate impression of the walls and gates [of Jerusalem] was not contradicted by my consciousness of what came before and what came after that medieval period. It remained primarily a thing of walls and gates; a thing which the modern world does not perhaps understand so well as the medieval world. There is involved in it all that idea of definition which those who do not like it are fond of describing as dogma. A wall is like [a] rule; and the gates are like the exceptions that prove the rule. The man making it has to decide where his rule will run and where his exception shall stand. He cannot have a city that is all gates any more than a house that is all windows; nor is it possible to have a law that consists entirely of liberties.

[GKC The New Jerusalem CW20:228-9]

Since even the "Native Americans" (Indians) came in as immigrants across the erstwhile Bering Bridge, we ought to be very careful about terms. But that doesn't mean we have to settle for a house with all windows. (I wonder if that's what Bill Gates lives in? hee hee)

--Dr. Thursday

John said...

That same Chestertonian point is that the limitations of a thing truly define it. Children love to get at what a thing truly is. That's why Chesterton says that no power in heaven or on earth can keep them off the edges of things.

Those who wish to dissolve the borders truly wish to dissolve the country. But those who want no immigrants ignore a real and very human side of the issue. It's unhealthy to live in a house with no windows, and perhaps it has come time to open some of the windows in our old, dust-ridden house. One must take the risk that some bugs might come in and co-habitate with us, for the sake of sunlight and fresh air. Human beings can live with bugs, but cannot be human without fresh air or the sun.

Now, it is the tendency of many conservatives today to insist that immigration is somehow bad, in the same way that bugs are bad. They also suffocate from a lack of fresh air, in my opinion. If immigration restrictions were eased, there would surely be a few disreputable people who entered the country. There would, no doubt, be a great number of people who would do much good for the country. I think it's important to remember that, and not focus too much on the possible bad exclusively.