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Lazarus, Emma

Emma Lazarus

Born: July 22, 1849
New York, New York
Died: November 19, 1887
New York, New York

American poet

Emma Lazarus, an American poet, is best known as a spokesperson for the Jewish people. Her faith in America as a safe place for all the suffering people of the world is expressed in her poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York.

Early life and writings

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. She was the daughter of Moses and Esther Nathan Lazarus. Her father was a wealthy sugar merchant. Emma and her sisters were educated by private tutors and spent their summers at the seashore in Rhode Island. Emma read many of the books in her father's library and quickly learned other languages, including Italian, French, and German. At the age of eleven she began writing poems with traditional romantic themes and translating the works of German and French poets.

When Emma was seventeen her father paid to have her first collection of poems printed. Poems and Translations (public edition 1867) was followed by Admetus and Other Poems (1871). These poems so pleased the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882) that he invited Lazarus to visit him, beginning a correspondence that lasted throughout her life. Lazarus also received support and advice from other male writers throughout her life, including the novelist Henry James (18431916).

Lazarus's work began appearing regularly in Lippincott's Magazine and Scribner's Monthly. In 1874 she published her first prose (a style of writing closer to normal speech than poetry), Alide: An Episode of Goethe's Life. Her five-act drama, The Spagnoletto (1876), which focuses on Italy in 1655, was not as well received as her poetry. Her translation of the German poet Heinrich Heine's (17971856) Poems and Ballads (1881) was considered the best version of Heine in English at the time.

Supporter of Jewish people

The turning point in Lazarus's life was the outbreak of violent anti-Semitism (hatred of Jewish people) in Russia and Germany during the early 1880s. When a writer defended these activities in the Century Magazine, Lazarus wrote the angry reply "Russian Christianity versus Modern Judaism" in the next issue. From this moment on she began a private crusade for her people. Her verse took on a new tone of urgency, a call for Zionism (the movement for the creation of an independent Jewish state), particularly in Songs of a Semite (1882) and in her play of twelfth-century Jewish life, The Dance to Death. More importantly, she began to organize relief efforts for the thousands of Jewish immigrants crowding into the United States and to write a series of articles for the magazine American Hebrew.

Later years

In 1883 Lazarus sailed for England, where she was received with great enthusiasm for her work on behalf of Jewish immigrants. She made so many friends among the Zionists that she returned in 1885, spending the next two years traveling in England, France, and Italy. Cancer cut her career short. She returned to New York City shortly before her death from cancer on November 19, 1887. Lazarus's poem "The New Colossus" was engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor before its dedication in 1886. The poem was a fitting tribute to her faith in American ideals.

For More Information

Lefer, Diane. Emma Lazarus. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Levinson, Nancy Smiler. I Lift My Lamp: Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty. New York: Dutton, 1986.

Merriam, Eve. Emma Lazarus Rediscovered. New York: Biblio Press, 1998.

Young, Bette Roth. Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995.

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Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), American poet, is best known as a spokesperson for the Jewish people. Her faith in America as a haven for all the downtrodden peoples of the world is expressed in her poem in scribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. Her wealthy, cultured parents provided comforts and devotion, beginning with private tutors and summers at the seashore. At the age of 11 she began writing impassioned lyrics on traditional romantic themes and at 17 privately printed her first collection. Poems and Translations (public edition 1867) was followed by Admetus and Other Poems (1871). These poems so pleased Ralph Waldo Emerson that he invited Lazarus to visit him, thereby beginning a correspondence that lasted throughout her life.

Lazarus's work began appearing regularly in Lippincott's Magazine and Scribner's Monthly. In 1874 she published her first prose, Alide: An Episode of Goethe's Life. Her five-act drama, The Spagnoletto (1876), focuses on Italy in 1655, but as playwright she had more fervor than talent. Poetry was her true métier. Her translation of Heinrich Heine's Poems and Ballads (1881) was considered the best version of Heine in English at the time.

The turning point in Lazarus's life was the outbreak of violent anti-Semitism in Russia and Germany during the early 1880s. When a journalist defended these pogroms in the Century Magazine, Lazarus wrote the fervent reply "Russian Christianity versus Modern Judaism" in the next issue. From this moment she began a private crusade for her people. Her verse took on a new note of urgency, a call to Zionism, particularly in Songs of a Semite (1882) and in her play of 12th-century Jewish life, The Dance to Death. More importantly, she began to organize relief efforts for the thousands of immigrants crowding into Ward's Island and to write a series of articles for the magazine American Hebrew.

In 1883 Lazarus sailed for England, where she was received with great enthusiasm for her work in behalf of Jewish immigrants. She made so many friends among the Zionists that she returned in 1885, spending the next 2 years traveling in England, France, and Italy. Cancer cut her career short. She returned to New York City shortly before her death on Nov. 19, 1887. Lazarus's sonnet "The New Colossus" was engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor before the dedication in 1886; it was a fitting commemoration of her faith in American ideals.

Further Reading

The Poems of Emma Lazarus (2 vols., 1889), the standard text, includes a biographical sketch by her sister. More recent is Emma Lazarus: Selections from Her Poetry and Prose, edited by Morris U. Schappes (1944; 3d ed. 1967). See also H. E. Jacob, The World of Emma Lazarus (1949), and Eve Merriam, Emma Lazarus: Woman with a Torch (1956).

Additional Sources

Angoff, Charles, Emma Lazarus, poet, Jewish activist, pioneer Zionist, New York: Jewish Historical Society of New York, 1979.

Young, Bette Roth, Emma Lazarus in her world: life and letters, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995. □

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"Emma Lazarus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Emma Lazarus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/emma-lazarus

Lazarus, Emma

Emma Lazarus, 1849–87, American poet and essayist, b. New York City. Her early verse includes Admetus and Other Poems (1871) and The Spagnoletto (1876), a poetic drama. Enraged by the Russian pogroms of the 1880s, she became an impassioned spokeswoman for Judaism, writing many essays and the book of poems, Songs of a Semite (1882), which contains her best work. Her sonnet about the Statue of Liberty, "The New Colossus," was engraved on the statue's pedestal. Her other work includes translations of Heine.

See biographies by C. Angoff (1979) and E. Schor (2006).

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"Lazarus, Emma." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lazarus, Emma." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lazarus-emma

"Lazarus, Emma." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lazarus-emma