The New Colossus, A Poem on the Statue of Liberty

Emma LazarusThe New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus, circa 1880

(A part of this poem is inscribed on a plaque at the base 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!”

Photograph by Daniel Schwen – Own work, Public Domain,

Two Poems about Freedom

Thomas Moore once wrote that it was

“Better to dwell in Freedom’s hall,
With a cold damp floor and mouldering wall,
Than bow the head and bend the knee
In the proudest palace of slaverie.”

In other words, it’s better to be free and living in a simple place than it is to be a slave in an extravagant palace.

What is the place in which I live? I have heat that I can turn on when it gets cold, air conditioning to turn on when it gets hot, running water (hot and cold), a carpeted floor, electricity, plumbing, etc. I have so much. My floor isn’t “cold” or “damp,” and my wall isn’t “mouldering.” Not only that, but I have wireless internet. I have a laptop computer that I can connect via the internet to just about anywhere in the world.

Here’s another one by T. Buchanan Read:

“Oh, joy to the world! the hour is come,
When the nations to freedom awake,
When the royalists stand agape and dumb,
And monarchs with terror shake!
Over the walls of majesty
‘UPHARSIN’ is writ in words of fire,
And the eyes of the bondsman, wherever they be
Are lit with wild desire.
Soon shall the thrones that blot the world,
Like the Orleans, into the dust be hurl’d,
And the word roll on like a hurricane’s breath,
Till the farthest slave hears what it saith–
Arise, arise, be free!

When I read this, I am persuaded to believe that freedoms of all kinds are something important, something to defend.

What do you think about these poems? Any thoughts?

The Unwise Bee, A Brief Story by James E. Talmage

Sometimes I find myself under obligations of work requiring quiet and seclusion such as neither my comfortable office nor the cozy study at home insures. My favorite retreat is an upper room in the tower of a large building, well removed from the noise and confusion of the city streets. The room is somewhat difficult to access and relatively secure against human intrusion. Therein I have spent many peaceful hours with books and pen.

I am not always without visitors, however, especially in the summertime; for when I sit with the windows open, flying insects occasionally find entrance and share the place with me. These self-invited guests are not unwelcome, and many times I have laid down the pen and watched with interest the activities of these winged visitants with an afterthought that the time so spent had not been wasted. For is it not true that even a butterfly, a beetle, or a bee may be a bearer of lessons to the receptive student?

Once, a wild bee from the neighboring hills flew into the room. At intervals during an hour or more I listened to the pleasing hum of its flight. The little creature realized that it was a prisoner, yet all its efforts to find the exit through the partly opened window failed. 

When I was ready to close up the room and leave, however, I threw the window wide open and tried to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing full well that if it was left in the room it would die just as other insects there entrapped had perished in the dry atmosphere of the enclosure. But the more I tried to drive the bee out, the more determinedly did it oppose and resist my efforts. Its erstwhile peaceful hum developed into an angry roar; its darting flight became hostile and threatening.

Then it caught me off my guard and stung my hand–the very hand that would have guided it to freedom–and finally alighted on a pendant attached to the ceiling, beyond my reach of either help or injury. The sharp pain of its unkind sting aroused in me rather pity than anger, for I knew the inevitable penalty of its mistaken opposition and defiance, and I had to leave the creature to its fate.

Three days later, I returned to the room. When I entered, I saw the dried, lifeless body of the bee on the writing table. It had paid for its stubbornness with its life.

To the bee’s shortsightedness and misunderstanding I was a foe, a persistent persecutor, a mortal enemy bent on its destruction; while in truth I was its friend, offering it ransom of the life it had put in forfeit through its own error, striving to redeem it, in spite of itself, from the prison house of death and restore it to the outer air of liberty.

Are we so much wiser than the bee that no analogy lies between its unwise course and our own lives?

[Slightly adapted from James E. Talmage, “The Unwise Bee.”]

I found this image on The Culinary Exchange:

Chaim Perelman, The Realm of Rhetoric, A Brief Summary

In this excerpt from The Realm of Rhetoric from The Rhetorical Tradition on pages 1379-1383, Perelman gives a brief history of rhetoric and explains the realm of rhetoric.

He begins by discussing ancient philosophy and rhetoric, and uses the sophists to give a voice to a version of rhetoric that is greater than philosophy, can argue on both sides of the question, and puts specific opinions over general truths. Then philosophy is given a voice by Plato, who makes philosophy greater than rhetoric, makes rhetoric as a means to truth, and shows that when a philosopher has perceived truth, he or she uses rhetoric to make it known.

But for Perelman, Aristotle’s views are more nuanced, since he believed that philosophy and rhetoric are both important, useful, and necessary. For example, a rigorous mathematical proof would not be appropriate in a speech, and a speech would not be appropriate in a mathematical proof. Certain situations require certain ways of demonstration.

But while anciently rhetoric had been taught as consisting of the five canons of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery, later in the early modern period, Peter Ramus reduced rhetoric to style and ornamentation, and Descartes went even further to eliminate rhetoric from philosophy altogether. Descartes wanted a philosophy that was pure and unambiguous and, neglecting Aristotle’s advice, also wanted to have mathematical rigor in language, in all fields, and in all realms and areas of study. Descartes wanted to build all knowledge on what was self-evident.

But Perelman has a problem with self-evidence. He says that self-evidence imposes itself on everyone and takes away people’s free will. If a thing is self-evident, then nobody can choose to disagree with it. And even if a thing is self-evident, that self-evidence vanishes as soon as people try to communicate it because language is fallible and not self-evident. In other words, even the trope of “self-evidence” becomes problematic because too many deceptions can come from it. Our words never force anyone else to believe what we say—others have that choice whether to accept our statements or reject them. The choices we make in language and expression, however, are “influenced by reasons which come from dialectic and rhetoric” (1382).

Hence Perelman writes, 

“Even today the teaching of the sciences is inspired by the Cartesian approach. In the areas which are free from controversy, it is not customary to refer to the opinion of one or another scholar. The theses which are taught are considered true, or are accepted as hypotheses; but there is hardly any need to justify them.
“Thus, although axioms in the mathematical sciences, considered at first self-evident, were subsequently shown to be conventions of language, this change of perspective, however fundamental, has not affected the way in which such formal systems are laid out. In fact, if it is not a question of self-evidence, but of hypotheses or conventions, why choose this hypothesis or that convention rather than another? Most mathematicians consider such questions foreign to their discipline” (1381).

In other words, we confess that scientific thought is human thought. And that “Every new idea must be supported by arguments which are relevant to its discipline’s proper methodology and which are evaluated in terms of it” (1382). So, as human beings, we can’t get away from argumentation. Hence, rhetoric as a theory of argumentation is the way to go. We persuade one another to viewpoints, and we use good reasons to support our conclusions.

Philosophy is about separating “the important from the secondary, the essential from the accidental, the construct from the given, all from a perspective whose pertinence and superiority does not compel everyone. Hence the obligation to support the chosen perspective through argumentation, using analogies and metaphors, by which the adequacy and superiority of the one perspective over rival perspectives can be shown.” In other words, people have freedom to choose. A theory of argumentation lets people have freedom because it does not compel anyone to believe a certain way. A “general theory of argumentation” is “a new rhetoric” (1383).

So what is the realm of rhetoric? For Perelman, the realm of rhetoric includes anything that is human: “In identifying this rhetoric with the general theory of persuasive discourse, which seeks to gain both the intellectual and the emotional adherence of any sort of audience, we affirm that every discourse which does not claim an impersonal validity belongs to rhetoric” (1383). Or, put another way, “As soon as a communication tries to influence one or more persons, to orient their thinking, to excite or calm their emotions, to guide their actions, it belongs to the realm of rhetoric” (1383).

The Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln

You’ve read it before. You may even have memorized it. But this speech is still relevant, and I believe it’s a speech worth pondering.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 Abraham Lincoln
 November 19, 1863