American Jewish Poet and Philanthropist
1849 – 1887 A.D.
Emma Lazarus, an American Jewish poet and philanthropist, born in New York City. Trained at home under the personal direction of her father, Moses Lazarus, a merchant of prominence in the social and business world, she early displayed intellectual promise. From her childhood, books were her most precious possession, and her mind was turned to poetry for its utterance.
Of her literary work and social service, Israel Abrahams says:
“At the age of twenty-one she published Admetus and Other Poems, inscribed to Emerson, who greatly influence her, and with whom she maintained a regular correspondence for several years. In 1874 her prose romance Alide, based on Goethe’s autobiography, appeared, and received a generous letter of admiration from Turgeniv. Two years later she visited Concord and made the acquaintance of the Emerson circle; while there she read the proof-sheets of her tragedy The Spagnoletto, and later 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. She belonged to the oldest Jewish congregation of New York, though 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 fulfillment of a grand destiny. Her poems The Crowing of the Red Cock and The Banner of the Jew helped to produce the new Zionism, and the short remainder of her life was devoted to the cause of Jewish nationalism.
“Her drama the Dance of Death was included in Songs of a Semite which she dedicated to George Eliot, and in 1887 her final work appeared, By the Waters of Babylon, a series of prose poems, full of prophetic fire.”
A sonnet by her is engraved on a memorial tablet on the Bartholdi Statue of Liberty, New York City.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.