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Emma Lazarus

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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EMMA LAZARUS (1849-1887), American Jewish poetess, was born in New York. When the Civil War broke out she was soon inspired to lyric expression. Her first book (1867) included poems and translations which she wrote between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. As yet her models were classic and romantic. At the age of twenty-one she published Admetus and other Poems (1871). Admetus is inscribed to Emerson, who greatly influenced her, and with whom she maintained a regular correspondence for several years. She led a retired life, and had a modest conception of her own powers. Much of her next work appeared in Lippincott's Magazine, but in 1874 she published a prose romance ( Alide ) based on Goethe's autobiography, and received a generous letter of admiration from Turgeniev. Two years later she visited Concord and made the acquaintance of the Emerson circle, and while there read the proof-sheets of her tragedy The Spagnoletto. In 1881 she published her excellent translations of Heine's poems. Meanwhile events were occurring which appealed to her Jewish sympathies and gave a new turn to her feeling. The Russian massacres of 1880-1881 were a trumpet-call to her. So far her Judaism had been latent. She belonged to the oldest Jewish congregation of New York, but she had not for some years taken a personal part in the observances of the synagogue. But from this time she took up the cause of her race, and "her verse rang out as it had never rung before, a clarion note, calling a people to heroic action and unity; to the consciousness and fulfilment of a grand destiny." Her poems, "The Crowing of the Red Cock" and "The Banner of the Jew" (1882) stirred the Jewish consciousness and helped to produce the new Zionism. She now wrote another drama, the Dance to Death, the scene of which is laid in Nordhausen in the 14th century; it is based on the accusation brought against the Jews of poisoning the wells and thus causing the Black Death. The Dance to Death was included (with some translations of medieval Hebrew poems) in Songs of a Semite (1882), which she dedicated to George Eliot. In 1885 she visited Europe. She devoted much of the short remainder of her life to the cause of Jewish nationalism. In 1887 appeared By the waters of Babylon, which consists of a series of "prose poems," full of prophetic fire. She died in New York on the 19th of November 1887. A sonnet by Emma Lazarus is engraved on a memorial tablet on the colossal Bartholdi statue of Liberty, New York.

See article in the Century Magazine, New Series, xiv. 875 (portrait p. 803), afterwards prefixed as a Memoir to the collected edition of The poems of Emma Lazarus (2 vols., 1889). (I. A.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Emma Lazarus'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​e/emma-lazarus.html. 1910.
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