What Does the Tablet Say on the Statue of Liberty?

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The tablet that the Statue of Liberty holds in her left hand is inscribed with the date “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” – July 4, 1776. The bronze plaque on the statue’s pedestal has the text of the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus engraved upon it.

The most famous phrase associated with the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” comes from the poem “The New Colossus.” The poem was written by Emma Lazarus as part of a campaign to raise money to build a pedestal for the statue. It was read at an auction of art and literary works, but it was not intended as a part of the final pedestal. When the statue opened in 1886, there was no plaque. In 1901, Georgina Schuyler, a friend of Emma Lazarus, began a campaign to memorialize the poem, and in 1903, a bronze plaque with the inscribed poem was mounted on the inner wall of the pedestal.

The poem is in sonnet form with three rhymed quatrains and a final couplet with the lines: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The opening of the poem – “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land” – is a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes, a monumental statue from 280 B.C., considered one the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In making the comparison, Lazarus was expressing the idea that the new statue was not a symbol of victory or conquest but of freedom.