Born 22 July 1849
New York, New York
Died 19 November 1887
New York, New York
Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887) was an American poet born in New York City.
She is best known for writing "The New Colossus", a sonnet written in 1883, that is now engraved on a bronze plaque on a wall in the base of the Statue of Liberty. The sonnet was solicited by William Maxwell Evarts as a donation 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  .
Lazarus was the fourth of seven children of Moses Lazarus and Esther Cardozo, Portuguese Sephardic Jews. Her uncle was the famous Supreme Court Justice, Benjamin Cardozo. From an early age, she studied American and European literature, as well as several languages, including German, French, and Italian. Her writings attracted the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who corresponded with her up until his death.
She wrote her own original poems and edited many adaptations of German and Italian poems, notably those of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine. She also wrote a novel and two plays.
Lazarus' latent Judaism was awakened after reading the George Eliot novel, Daniel Deronda, and this was further strengthened by the Russian pogroms in the early 1880s. This led Lazarus to write articles on the subject and to begin translating the works of Jewish poets into English. When Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews, expelled in great numbers from the Russian Pale of Settlement began to appear in destitute multitudes in New York in the winter of 1882, Miss Lazarus interested herself actively in providing technical education to make them self-supporting.
She traveled twice to Europe, first in May 1885 after the death of her father in March and again in September 1887. She returned to New York City seriously ill after her second trip and died two months later on 19 November 1887, most likely from Hodgkin's disease.
She is known as an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. In fact, she argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Herzl began to use the term Zionism .
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
- 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!"
- -Emma Lazarus, 1883
References and further reading
- Eiselein, Gregory. Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems and Other Writings. USA: Broadview Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55111-285-X.
- Jacob, H. E. The World of Emma Lazarus. New York: Schocken, 1949.
- Lazarus, Emma. Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems. USA: Library of America, 2005. ISBN 1-931082-77-4.
- Moore, H. S. Liberty's Poet: Emma Lazarus. USA: TurnKey Press, 2004. ISBN 0-9754803-4-0.
- Schor, Esther. Emma Lazurus. New York: Schocken, 2006. ISBN 0-8052-4216-3. 
- Young, B. R. Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. USA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1997. ISBN 0-8276-0618-4.
This article incorporates text from an edition of the New International Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.
- ^ Young, Bette Roth (1997). Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. The Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0618-4. p. 3: Auction event named as " Lowell says poem gave the statue "a raison e'tre;" fell into obscurity; not mentioned at statue opening; Georgina Schuyler's campaign for the plaque
- ^ Felder, Deborah G.; Diana L Rosen (2003). Fifty Jewish Women Who Changed the World. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2443-X. p. 45: Solicited by "William Maxwell Evert" [sic; presumably William Maxwell Evarts] Lazarus refused initially; convinced by Constancy Cary Harrison
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