‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’

Published:April 25, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On on the occasion of her birthday, here’s a bonus fact about Constance Cary Harrison: she seems to have been responsible for convincing the poet Emma Lazarus to pen her famous sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Harrison herself told the story years later. She approached Lazarus while compiling a portfolio of works to be dedicated to the statue and then sold at an exhibition.

I begged Miss Lazarus to give me some verses appropriate to the occasion. She was at first inclined to rebel against writing anything “To order” as it were, and rather mischievously let play the summer-lightning of her sarcasm upon her friend, “the Portfolio fiend,” and the enterprise in general. “Besides,” she added, “if I attempt anything now, under the circumstances, it will assuredly be flat.” “Think of that Goddess standing on her pedestal down yonder in the bay, and holding her torch out to those Russian refugees of yours you are so fond of visiting at Ward’s Island,” I suggested. The shaft sped home—her dark eyes deepened—her cheek flushed—the time for merriment was passed—she said not a word more, then.

Lazarus biographer Esther H. Schor is diplomatic in judging the veracity of Harrison’s self-serving account, but argues it would be “unwise to dismiss” it altogether.