Emma Lazarus (Jewish Encounters Series)

Emma Lazarus (Jewish Encounters Series)

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0805242163

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Part of the Jewish Encounter series

Emma Lazarus’s most famous poem gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty, but her remarkable life has remained a mystery until now. She was a woman so far ahead of her time that we are still scrambling to catch up with her–a feminist, a Zionist, and an internationally famous Jewish American writer before thse categories even existed.

Drawing upon a cache of personal letters undiscovered until the 1980, Esther Schor brings this vital woman to life in all her complexity. Born into a wealthy Sephardic family in 1849, Lazarus published her first volume of verse at seventeen and gained entrée into New York’s elite literary circles. Although she once referred to her family as “outlaw” Jews, she felt a deep attachment to Jewish history and peoplehood. Her compassion for the downtrodden Jews of Eastern Europe–refugees whose lives had little in common with her own–helped redefine the meaning of America itself.

In this groundbreaking biography, Schor argues persuasively for Lazarus’s place in history as a poet, an activist, and a prophet of the world we all inhabit today–a world that she helped to invent.

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compared to Irving, and Emerson was the first critical voice to plump for Carlyle. A bravura performance, the essay ends with a flourish: “In short, we cannot help thinking that the literary history of the past fifty years in America contrasts favorably with that of the past fifty years in England….” Reading the unsigned essay in Newport, Thomas Wentworth Higginson dispatched a congratulatory letter to the author in care of the Critic, enclosing a patriotic poem of his own. She replied wryly:

sometimes too closely for Cowen’s comfort. She revised poems, ordered them, reordered them, added more, asked for proofs, fussed over the placement of footnotes, and issued directives regarding presentation and review copies. For The Dance to Death she wrote a dedication “in profound veneration and respect to the memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer, who did most among the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit of Jewish nationality.” In keeping with her original

the Jew—backward, ignorant, superstitious—that many Americans Jews found demeaning. She made no secret of the fact that she herself did. By then, a creeping fear of anti-Semitic reactions against American Jews had been voiced even by the refugees’ American stewards. To drive home the necessity of a homeland, she sketches a nightmarish future in which all Jewish refugees (including those from North Africa) emigrated to America: Either these Jews would submit to the inevitable and relinquish

wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Defying the “storied pomp” of antiquity, precedent, and ceremony, the statue speaks not in the new language of reason and light but in the divine language of lovingkindness. To worldly power, she sounds a dire tattoo: “Keep, ancient lands” “Give me your tired.” To the abject, she offers the silent salute of her lamp. What it illuminates are shapes of human suffering,

“Let man’s tale be flat & wide. What new limb could ere be planned, Wherewith to haul mud & sand?” Here the drowsy owl awoke, Like an oracle he spoke: “Sure, above all other things, Man must have a pair of wings.” “Wings, forsooth?” the blind mole cries. “He will bump against the skies. Or if he be firm in sight, Burn his eyes in sunny flight.” Rather would the mole advise, Man have neither wings nor eyes So that he can burrow oft, In the cool earth dark & soft, Where alone are joy

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