Biography of Emma Lazarus
Emma Lazarus was an American Jewish poet born in New York City.
She is best known for "The New Colossus", a sonnet written in 1883; its lines appear on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty placed in 1903. The sonnet was written for and donated to an auction, conducted by the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty" to raise funds to build the pedestal.
Emma Lazarus was honored by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President in March 2008 and was included in a map of historical sites related or dedicated to important women.
Lazarus was the fourth of seven children of Moshe Lazarus and Esther Nathan, Sephardic Jews whose families, originally from Portugal, had been settled in New York since the colonial period. She was related through her mother to Benjamin N. Cardozo, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.
From an early age, she studied American and British literature, as well as several languages, including German, French, and Italian. Her writings attracted the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He corresponded with her until his death.
Lazarus wrote her own poems and edited many adaptations of German poems, notably those of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine. She also wrote a novel and two plays. Her most famous work is "The New Colossus", which is inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus' close friend Rose Hawthorne Lathrop was inspired by "The New Colossus" to found the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.
Lazarus began to be more interested in her Jewish ancestry after reading the George Eliot novel, Daniel Deronda, and as she heard of the Russian pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II in 1881. As a result of this anti-Semitic violence, thousands of destitute Ashkenazi Jews emigrated from the Russian Pale of Settlement to New York. This led Lazarus to write articles on the subject as well as the poem for which she was most famous in her lifetime, "Song of a Semite" (1882). Lazarus began at this point to advocate on behalf of indigent Jewish refugees and helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training to help destitute Jewish immigrants become self-supporting.
She traveled twice to Europe, first in 1883 and again from 1885 to 1887. She returned to New York City seriously ill after her second trip and died two months later on November 19, 1887, most likely from Hodgkin's lymphoma.
She is also an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. She argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Theodor Herzl began to use the term Zionism. Lazarus is buried in Beth-Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Emma Lazarus's Works:
Lazarus, Emma (1888). The Poems of Emma Lazarus. Houghton, Mifflin and Company.
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Emma Lazarus Poems
The New Colossus
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
Oft have I brooded on defeat and pain, The pathos of the stupid, stumbling throng. These I ignore to-day and only long To pour my soul forth in one trumpet strain,
Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate, Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword, The children of the prophets of the Lord, Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Late-born and woman-souled I dare not hope, The freshness of the elder lays, the might Of manly, modern passion shall alight Upon my Muse's lips, nor may I cope
Last night I slept, and when I woke her kiss Still floated on my lips. For we had strayed Together in my dream, through some dim glade, Where the shy moonbeams scarce dared light our bliss.
1856 Paris, from throats of iron, silver, brass, Joy-thundering cannon, blent with chiming bells,
Music and silver chimes and sunlit air, Freighted with the scent of honeyed orange-flower; Glad, friendly festal faces everywhere. She, rapt from all in this unearthly hour,
I As the blind Milton's memory of light, The deaf Beethoven's phantasy of tone,
Therefore I dare reveal my private woe, The secret blots of my imperfect heart, Nor strive to shrink or swell mine own desert, Nor beautify nor hide. For this I know,
Life and Art
Not while the fever of the blood is strong, The heart throbs loud, the eyes are veiled, no less With passion than with tears, the Muse shall bless The poet-sould to help and soothe with song.
In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport
Here, where the noises of the busy town, The ocean's plunge and roar can enter not, We stand and gaze around with tearful awe, And muse upon the consecrated spot.
The fervent, pale-faced Mother ere she sleep, Looks out upon the zigzag-lighted square, The beautiful bare trees, the blue night-air, The revelation of the star-strewn deep,
I A dream of interlinking hands, of feet Tireless to spin the unseen, fairy woof
Long Island Sound
I see it as it looked one afternoon In August,-by a fresh soft breeze o'erblown. The swiftness of the tide, the light thereon, A far-off sail, white as a crescent moon.
The Cranes of Ibicus
Here was a man who watched the river flow
Past the huge town, one gray November day.
Round him in narrow high-piled streets at play
The boys made merry as they saw him go,
Murmuring half-loud, with eyes upon the stream,
The immortal screed he held within his hand.
For he was walking in an April land
With Faust and Helen. Shadowy as a dream
Was the prose-world, the river and the town.