Monday, December 19, 2011

Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles

You're probably familiar with a poem called "The New Colossus" that includes the line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” It's an essential part of the American immigrant narrative that unfolded at Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

However, you may be less familiar with the poem's author, Emma Lazarus, a lifelong New Yorker born in 1849. Through the Summer of 2012, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan is presenting Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles--the first major museum exhibit about Lazarus. This is a rare opportunity to learn more about a remarkable woman who broke gender barriers and left an important mark on American history.

Emma Lazarus

Though her Sephardic Jewish family had deep roots in the United States dating back to the colonial era, Lazarus lived through a period of unprecedented immigration. Living in New York, she witnessed the impact of thousands of newcomers beginning their lives in a new world. She captures the profound nature of this chapter of American history in "The New Colossus", her most famous work:

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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

--Emma Lazarus, 1883

To learn more about the life and work of Emma Lazarus, visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan.

--Posted by Kira Garcia

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