Miss Pym and a Friend

Miss Pym and a Friend

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Emma Lazarus; Another Excellent Woman

When Worlds Collide: The Conflicting Worlds of Emma Lazarus

American Jewish women writers of the nineteenth century faced the dilemmas of reconciling American citizenship with Jewish culture and the desire to write with traditional female roles assigned to them by their families and heritage. As Diane Lichtenstein says in her article on Jewish American Women writers, American Jewish women valued free speech, but they felt confusion and conflict between the use of free speech in their "personal struggle to be citizens of the American democracy at the same time that they were members of the ancient Jewish nation" (3). These women struggled to synthesize Old World Jewish Values with American myths of womanhood like "The True Woman." Female Jewish writers had a traditional obligation to ensure their families' well-being. After that obligation was met, they had to learn to be Americans; after learning that, they could write. More likely than not, once they began writing, one of their favorite themes would be describing America as a sort of Promised Land (Girgus 106).
Relatively wealthy Sephardic Jews like Emma Lazarus assimilated fairly quickly into American society. For example, they mostly wrote in English and identified themselves as Americans (7). As American women, they felt that the True Woman myth applied to Jews as well and strove to be guardians of home and hearth, of morality and culture. They tried to be gentle, refined, and sensitive, embodiments of Coventry Patmore's "Angel of the House," since it was these characteristics that defined the American True Woman, requiring them to be good wives and mothers (7). American Reform Judaism helped the Jewish woman to be more American for, among other changes, men no longer read the prayer thanking God they were not women and women were not isolated in balconies during the service (Lichtenstein 117). Moreover, Lichtenstein says that, unlike the "Victorian Child-woman" who needed constant protection lest she faint, Jewish women did not have to prove their adult status; they believed that they played a vital role in their community by preserving their religion and nation (154).
Jewish women received great praise for fulfilling the Mother of Israel role, so they were eager to play the Mother in America role as well. In short, they became subjects of two nations (103). Therefore, it was possible for an Emma Lazarus to write prolifically and passionately about Jewish and American ideals without feeling guilt. It was this same confidence in traditional roles and American ideals that may have encouraged another Jewish American woman who had been a refugee, Golda Meir, to go on and become the prime minister of Israel. At any rate, Emma Lazarus dealt with the conflicts of being a Jewish American woman writer by identifying herself with male writers and by attempting to reconcile in her writing her Jewish and American heritages through focussing on shared ideals between the two.
Emma Lazarus was unique to the traditional norms because she did not marry; therefore, she could forge her own world through the words she wrote without worrying about the needs of husband and children. These same words would validate her position as Jewish writer and advocate of Jewish refugees. Also, because she wrote to educate the American public about Jews, she was, in a way, fulfilling the Mother role of teacher (Lichtenstein article 251).
Because a venerated American poet, Emerson, blessed some of her earlier poems, Emma had won "permission to write" from society (251). Still, Lazarus understood that gender and nationality were not easily separated and her poems like "The Choice" and "The New Colossus" illustrate the difficulty of synthesizing these two worlds. Even a single woman had to fashion a role for herself within the traditional model; an unmarried woman was encouraged to do charity work in lieu of caring for home and family. Lazarus was one of the few Jewish women writers of the nineteenth century who was not also a mother and wife. Hence, when Emma Lazarus headed the relief work for the Jewish Refugees housed on Ward's Island in the 1880's, she was really filling the traditional caretaker role. In short, Jewish women who wanted to write in the nineteenth century had to define myths for themselves so that they could pursue their vocation to write and still fulfill their traditional place in Jewish and American society. The myth they eventually fashioned defined them as "Mothers in Israel."
As a "Mother in Israel," a Jewish woman was responsible for preserving Judaism within the refuge of the home. It was she who kept the sabbath traditions and who kept the kitchen Kosher (11). Like the biblical Deborah, the prophet, who led her people to victory over the Canaanites, the Jewish woman instilled pride in her family through maintaining these traditions in her home. Emma Lazarus, styled a "Princess in Israel" by one of her biographers, fulfilled the mother role by exhorting American Jews not to forget their heritage and to take pride in their history in poems like "The Banner of the Jew" and in her Epistles to the Hebrews. She may have been defiant to not write from the wife/mother perspective, but she was fulfilling the mother role because, like Deborah, she fought anti-Semitism; she used words to attack Christians and Jews who had become complacent and therefore, vulnerable to anti-Semitism. Ironically, some of this complacency existed within her own family. Her sister Annie converted to Catholicism and would not allow Emma's Jewish poems to be published after her death (Cowen 30). At one point in Emma's career, Annie referred to a visitor in the house, Phillip Cowen of The American Hebrew, as "Emma's Jewish editor" (33).
Still another difficulty that Jewish American Women writers faced was the fact that, even in America, there was anti-semitism. In fact, all Jews had enjoyed an uneasy welcome to the New World. In 1654 in New Amsterdam, they were prohibited from engaging in trade, they could not take part in public government or hold office, and they could not practice Judaism in a synagogue. The Governor of new Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, upheld these restrictions (Lichtenstein 103). If anything, the restrictions have a Medieval flavor and remind one of the same prohibitions which led Jews to become money lenders in the Middle Ages. Emma Lazarus was aware of anti-Semitism in the United States, and for this reason she advocated establishing a Jewish state in Palestine for the new refugees arriving daily. Also, by advocating for a Jewish state, Lazarus was protecting her own esteemed position as an upper class Sephardic Jew. She was afraid the less-sophisticated Eastern European Jews would inspire new waves of anti-Semitism as they looked for jobs among gentiles and brought religious and cultural customs with them that looked strange to American urban dwellers (192).
With her writings, Emma Lazarus took up the cause of Jewish pride and instilled American Jews with new fervor. Her efforts also brought aid and refuge to those who were the victims of Russian pogroms and of other atrocities. For example, in response to an apologia for the pogroms which was written by a Russian writer and aristocrat, Madame Zinaida Ragozin, and published in The Century, Emma wrote "Russian Christianity v. Modern Judaism" (May 1882), and "The Jewish Problem" (Feb. 1883). These articles were pleas to understand Jews and denounced the pogroms in Russia (Lichtenstein article 255). Lazarus consulted Jewish scholars and Rabbi's before she wrote both pieces, so that righteous indignation was backed up with historical fact and Biblical evidence.
Yet, Emma was not without conflicts, and her life was not without contradictions. These conflicts and contradictions stemmed from the fact that she believed passionately that she belonged to both the Jews and to the American nation. For examples in her poems and letters, she writes to defend the Jews and to praise Emerson and American Literature simultaneously (22). Yet, as a Victorian woman, Emma cold not vote, as a Jew, she was subject to anti-Semitism, and as a Jewish woman, she was denied male privileges under 3500 years of orthodox law (Lichtenstein article 247). A look at her poem "1492" indicates some of the contradictions and ironies in her own heritage. During that year, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, and Columbus set sail and "discovered" America. 1492 is a "two-faced year" because, while discovery of the New Year ostensibly offers hope beyond the "doors of sunset," the Jews are "Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,/Close-locked was every port, barred every gate" to the Jew (Lazarus II 22-23). It is interesting that this poem, written in 1882, anticipates some of the language later used in "The New Colossus." There, the West, which had refused the Jews in 1492, proclaims the words "Ho, all who weary, enter here!" with "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Now, the "Golden door" will finally open for them. Evidently, with the establishment of America and its Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the Jews can now enter America with the promise of Freedom of Religion. Here, Lazarus is buying into the American myth as first created by the Puritans, that American is the "promised land." This idea of an American promised land inspired many Jewish writers to write, as Emma did, of the United States as a sanctuary for the world's persecuted Jews (Girgus 106).
Emma Lazarus dealt with these contradictions in her life by identifying herself not with the traditional Jewish and Victorian female roles, but by avoiding them through identifying herself with male writers. Also, she attempted to reconcile Jewish ideals with American principals of freedom and independence by finding similarities in the two heritages and by illustrating what she believed these similarities to be in poems like "The New Colossus."
Some of her contemporaries had the same idea. After her death, her sister, Josephine Lazarus, in The Spirit of Judaism, would advocate that Judaism and Christianity be melted into one religion to achieve a true synthesize of the history and ideals that the two shared (Lichtenstein 249).
According to Lichtenstein, Emma's language is not traditionally female (Lichtenstein article 250). Her subjects are not traditional, either. For example, she does not write about children, hearth, and flowers. Early in her career, while still a teenager, she chose to write about the Civil War. In "The Banner of the Jew" and other poems she uses battle cries and war imagery to rouse her people. For example, in "The Banner of the Jew," the poet urges "Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day/The glorious Maccabean rage. . ." (Lazarus II 10). In lines similar to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," Lazarus calls for a "battle anthem" like that which called the Jews to defeat the Syrians in the days of Judas Maccabee (11). She ends with "Strike! for the brave revere the brave!" (12). The tempo of the poem is brisk and urgent, the rhythm inspiring, and the whole poem is filled with exclamation points. Later, she calls for "a million naked swords to wave" to save Israel and for "martial fire" to rekindle itself (11). Another poem, "The Crowing of the Red Cock" was inspired directly by the Russian pogroms of the 1880's. "Red cock" was code for an anti-Jewish pogrom in Russia (Vogel 149). In a memorial to Emma printed in Century after her death in 1889, Whittier said that the poem was "an indignant and forceful lyric worthy of the Maccabean age" (Cowen 37). Here, too, Emma is linked with the ancient prophets and heroes. Whittier's comment likens her to Judas Maccabee, who defeated the Syrians after a long, eight day siege which is discussed in more detail in Emma's poem "The Feast of Lights."
Moreover, Emma identifies herself with the great male artist, or the American version of Wordsworth's "mighty Poet." She would have been happy to know that some of her critics agreed with her, and one compared her to Byron, because, like him, poetry came easier for Emma than speech (Price 371). She carried this mental image to the end of her life, and, like Heine, dragged herself with her last strength before the statue of Venus in the Louvre to "worship" classical art. She describes Heine's pilgrimage and how he wept before the statute in her poem "Venus of the Louvre," calling Venus "The foam-born mother of Love, . . . who stood while "at her feet a pale, death-stricken Jew, . . . sobbed farewell to love/Here Heine wept" (Lazarus I 203). Certainly she was compared to male poets in her own time and her "Admetus" was judged to be superior to Browning's "Apollo and the Fates" which dealt with the same subject of mythological love. Once again, Emma would have been happy to be compared to a great male artist who openly admired her work and who told her so.
In another series of short poems, "By the Waters of Babylon," describing the Exodus from Spain in 1492, Emma identifies herself with one of the male Jewish prophets. In "IV The Prophet", Number 1, Moses Ben Maimon lifts his perpetual lamp over the path of the perplexed (45). Prophets themselves are "branded" with "live coal" in Emma's poem (45). The opposite of the light of truth for her is the "dark corner" of "misery and oppression,"(65), which is further representative of ignorance. In this series of poems, Moses Ben Maimon, the prophet, lifts his lamp to guide the lost and weary, just as the "Mother of Exiles does in "The New Colossus." Once again, Lazarus steps into the shoes of a male figure, and, with her writing, attempts to guide her people with words of courage to the New World.
In her prose, Lazarus openly aligns herself with male figures. In her novel Alide: an Episode in Goethe's Life (1874), the plot centers around Goethe's love for a country girl. The lovers separate, however, when Goethe realizes that Alide is not his "spiritual or intellectual equal" (250). Emma may have even been familiar with Madame de Stael's novel, Corinne, which dealt with the opposite problem, a woman who could not find a man to be both her lover and spiritual equal. Emma identified with Goethe, the great poet, because he could "break earthly bonds" to fulfill art (250). Emma, too, wanted to escape the conflicting roles in her life, she wanted to cease being a True Woman and potential Mother of Israel in exchange for the right to be a genderless artist. In this way, she could "fight" through her words for the ideal in which she believed and which she believed linked both Judaism and Americanism. She also identifies with the male artist in her story "The Eleventh Hour" and in the narrative poem "Raschi in Prague." Raschi, the hero of the poem, is an intellectual and a physician he burns with the fire of his convictions and his "beauty of a soul" is "as an aureole crowns a burning lamp" (Lazarus II 25-26). In "The Eleventh Hour," a young Romanian artist feels like an outcast in America, which he came to because he thought it was the land of opportunity. Sergius, the artist, is disappointed by the art of the United States as well as by the country itself. Freedom to him is a sham because the culture appears so rough and savage. Another character, Dick, urges Sergius to be patient, and to cultivate America's potential (Lichtenstein article 250). In this story, Emma is talking to herself and to other American artists. She is acknowledging that there are contradictions in America's freedoms, but if everyone is patient, there is more potential in American for freedom of all kinds than there is in any other country. Artists must urge freedom through their writings and works, and newcomers, like the refugees, need only to have patience and to work hard, and soon, they will shape America into the kind of free nation they have been seeking. After all, if the American people shape the country, they must continually speak out against injustice and define the ideals of the Bill of Rights. True, the country was barely 100 years old when Emma wrote this story in approximately 1878, yet she does not apparently deal with the contradiction in this freedom that women could not vote. By identifying herself with male artists, she does not have to deal with that conflict. Moreover, Emma is not at all like the woman character in the "Eleventh Hour," Emma portrays the woman in a negative way for using her art to manipulate men to act for her instead of acting for herself (250). These early male characters serve as "straw men" which Lazarus speaks through until she finds her own voice in the Jewish poems of the 1880's where she becomes a new Ezra in poems like "The Banner of the Jew" by lifting the literary banner of Israel to sing its praises (251).
Another way Emma identified with male poets was to emulate them, as she does Longfellow in "The Jewish Synagogue at Newport," (1867). According to Diane Lichtenstein, in emulating Longfelllow in this poem, Emma was validating her own literary voice (251). Also, she wrote the poem partly as a response to Longfellow's "In the Jewish Cemetery at Newport (1858)." The quatrain with which Lazarus took issue reads as follows:
"But Oh! What once has been shall be no more'
The groaning earth in travail and pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again" (EL quoted in Cowen 28).
At this point in her career, Lazarus was more interested in classical themes, but she felt compelled to answer Longfellow's charge that the Jews were a dying nation. She felt that the influx of Jews fleeing Europe and the controversies of the Jewish question proved that the Jews were alive and needed no miracle to establish their nationality (28).
In the second stanza of "The Jewish Synagogue at Newport," Lazarus writes that "The light of the 'perpetual lamp' is spent/That an undying radiance was to shed" (Lazarus I 160). In other words, the law of Israel, Moses' law is no longer heeded because the synagogue is closed. Therefore, the truth which emanates from that law no longer enlightens the congregation. In the poem, Lazarus likens the perpetual lamp to a New World of Light. Even this early in her career, the vacant synagogue has become a symbol for the scattered, assimilated refugees who would soon find themselves stranded on Ward's island, unwitting muses for Lazarus's later Jewish poems. Lost Israel is connected with the light of law and truth in the poem because it is called the "Fair sunrise land" (160). Besides warmth, the light of the sun is associated with riches and idealism (Cirlot 320). As the "sunrise land" Israel is ideally, the promised land, replete with spiritual riches for those who remain faithful and allow their path to be lit by the light of truth and law.
The battle was not easily won for Lazarus, her poem "Echoes" published in Admetus in 1888 but written earlier, exemplifies her struggles. She cannot share the battle wounds of men, but she can fight in a different medium with her pen. She cannot take part on the battlefield because she is screened or veiled by "domestic duties" and the traditional roles imposed on her (249). The speaker in the poem hopes that "manly, modern passion shall alight" on her Muse's lips (Lazarus I 210). Once again, the poet wishes for male attributes, here modernism is called "manly." Yet, it is interesting because the Muse is, apparently, still feminine. The title, "Echoes" also echoes the woman's underground struggles to become writers (249). Also, Echo was the nymph who, ignored by her lover, faded away until only her voice was left. The title and allusion fit Emma herself, for she was known only by her written words, she never spoke in public and was often described as "shy, and retiring" by male contemporaries who had met her (251). One later Jewish male biographer judged Emma according to the Mother of Israel paradigm and said that, before she wrote the Jewish poems, Emma was "nearing spinsterhood without getting anywhere in poetry or in life" (Simonhoff 132). Simonhoff chooses to ignore the acclaim Emma won for her early poems; after all, a Jewish woman writer could not be taken seriously. As far as Simonhoff is concerned, Emma lived in an "ivory tower" and was "reared in a wealthy home without men" (132). She has not fulfilled her mother role, and has not nurtured her family, so Simonhoff judges her for neither seeking nor attracting "prospective wooers" (132). Her own sister, Josephine, ironically an advocate of Women's Rights, defined Emma as a "True Woman," who was "too distinctly feminine" to risk being exceptional or "To stand alone and apart, even by virtue of superiority" (251).
Also, the men whom Emma tried to emulate, and who often praised her and gave advice to her, sometimes refused to take her seriously as their artistic equal. Emerson, for example, served as her mentor for about ten years, and the two exchanged quite a correspondence in which he critiqued and praised her poems. Yet, she was left out of his 1874 anthology, Parnassus, with no explanation. The exclusion is particularly ironic since Parnassus was the home of the Muses, female goddesses who were patrons of the arts Emma saw the rejection from the anthology as a public statement that her work did not deserve to stand alongside American figures like Longfellow and Bryant (Lichtenstein 171). This was a devastating blow for her because she believed that her access to America was through the world of American letters (Lichtenstein article 257). For Emma, Emerson embodied the spirit of the new American literature that she was trying to expand with her own writing. More than anything, acceptance from Emerson meant to her that she had been accepted for her art, and that her religion and gender were not an obstacle. After his rejection, she came to distrust America's rhetoric of equality," and came to feel that her Jewishness separated her (258). On December 27, 1874, Lazarus wrote Emerson a letter which expressed her pain and disappointment:
"I cannot resist the impulse of expressing to you my extreme disappointment at finding you have so far modified the enthusiastic estimate you held of my literary labors as to refuse me a place in the large and miscellaneous collections of poems you have just published. I can only consider this omission a public retraction of all the flattering opinions and letters you have sent me, and I cannot in any degree reconcile it with your numerous expressions of extravagant admiration . . .Your favorable opinion having been confirmed by some of the best critics of England and America, I felt as if I had won for myself by my own efforts a place in any collection of American poets . . . "(quoted in Lichtenstein article 171).
Clearly, this "literary daughter of Emerson" is indignant and disappointed that she has been left out after she believed that, with the master's blessing, she had won a place for herself in American literature. She was posthumously included in Stedman's anthology of American women poets in 1900, but Emerson's exclusion may have had far reaching effects after all. Not one of the three courses I have taken which have focussed on Emerson have so much as mentioned Emma Lazarus.
Soon after the rejection by Emerson, Lazarus became aware of the Russian Pogroms and was inspired to write the Jewish poems to aid the cause of the refugees. Emma visited the Jewish refugees in Schiff Refuge on Ward's island in October, 1882. These were the victims of the pogroms who were literally fleeing for their lives. conditions on Ward's island were appalling; at one point Lazarus saw a riot for food erupt (Schappes xii). Horrified by the demoralized conditions in which the refugees were kept, Lazarus began to organize relief for them and to write An Epistle to the Hebrews to rally the refugees and American Jews into a new appreciation of their heritage. With her new found inspiration, Lazarus came to see the Jewish refugees as the "pioneers of intellectual progress" (Lazarus 9). Through her writings, she sought to instill in them the ethnic pride and dignity that would help them flourish in America (9). Her Jewish poems had the same goal.
In one of the Jewish poems entitled "The Choice," the Jews are defined as God's chosen people. Their path is full of suffering, but God lights the way for them with His Truth. Law and truth are symbolized by a lamp:
"But in they hand I place my lamp for light,
Thy blood shall be the witness of
My law,
Choose now for all the ages" (Lazarus II 15).
Israel is personified with a "great martyr-forehead" and with"glowing eyes that had renounced the world" (15). Israel is disgraced and despised, but also immortal because God has chosen her especially to know his Truth. The Jew, despised and miserable, holds God's lamp in his wretched had, and God, personally, has favored the Jew because He placed the lamp there. Also, this figure holding the lamp foreshadows the image of the Statue of Liberty in "The New Colossus" where Liberty holds a torch in her hand.
Furthermore, "The Choice" represents the difficult spiritual journeys of Israel and of Emma herself (Lichtenstein article 256). Emma was a wealthy, assimilated Jew who espoused the somewhat radical position of publicly avowing her Judaism. Unconsciously, she served as a role model in the same way that Moses became a role model for the Jews when he declared himself to be a Jew while simultaneously giving up the benefits of being a prince of Egypt. Once again, Lazarus identified herself with a male role model (256). She may have seen herself as a martyr, willing to put her comfortable life in jeopardy to rouse Israel to battle. As she said at the time she wrote her Epistles to the Hebrews, "I am all Israel's now . . . Till that cloud pass, I have no thought, no passion, no desire, save for my own people" (Levinson 65). One wonders if Lazarus realized that she was emulating St.Paul, a male writer in choosing her title. (See for example, the New Testament, St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews).
"The New Colossus," which is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, illustrates Lazarus's most famous attempt to synthesize her two worlds. Another Jewish woman poet, Penina Moise of Charleston, wrote a poem in 1833 called "To Persecuted Foreigners" which anticipates "The New Colossus." The relevant stanza reads as follows:
"If thou art one of that oppressed race,
Whose pilgrimage from Palestine we trace,
Brave the Atlantic, Hope's broad anchor weight,
A western Sun will gild your future day" (In Blau and Baron 418).
Moise's poem also sets out America as a refuge for the "tempest tossed," "huddled masses" escaping Easter persecution. The Sun, an image of light, guides the new arrivals just as the "beacon hand" of the Mother of Exiles will guide them later. Also, it is interesting to note that the Statue of Liberty wears a helmet shaped like a sunburst; her very presence, therefore, guides the immigrants to the Promised Land of America with the sun's light, which is both natural and divine since it is a creation of God.
With the poem, Emma transformed the Statue of Liberty into a symbol of asylum, and extended the myth of America as the Promised Land to the new immigrants (Girgus 121).
Furthermore, Lazarus was inspired in part by one of her own images in the poem "Gifts," that of the exiled Jew searching for a home, his lamp in his hand (Levinson 81). The relevant line reads "No fire consumes him ,[the Jew], neither floods devour;/Immortal through the lamp within his hand" (Lazarus II 21). Finding a place for the lamp would mean for the Jew that a synagogue has been established where the lamp can burn eternally, and where he is at home. Once the perpetual lamp is set to burn, the Jew can never be exiled again. The actual name of the statue, "Liberty Enlightening the World" sparked Emma's imagination (Merriam 124-125). The torch in Liberty's hand further inspired her and the resulting sonnet with its myriad light images came quickly to Emma (125). Actually, a Civil War poem Lazarus wrote when she was a teenager anticipates the "New Colossus:"
More hearts will break than gladden when'
The bitter struggle's past;
The giant form of Victory must
A giant's shadow cast . . ."(Merriam II 97).
It is almost eerie that this giant form parallels the huge proportions of the Statue of Liberty. Yet, the statue makes a symbol of womanhood which defied the "Angel of the House" stereotypes of passivity and demureness (Lichtenstein article 260). Instead, the statue in Emma's poem is more like Deborah, the Old Testament mother figure who has burst outside the home to create a refuge for all the "tempest tossed" victims of anti-Semitism and oppression. Unlike the statue of Venus which Emma visited during her last visit to the Louvre when she was dying of Hodgkins Disease, the Statue of Liberty has arms to hold the lamp for the new arrivals and to enfold them to the bosom of their new country, while the statute from the Old World, Venus, has no arms, and thus "can't help."
Moreover, unlike the Colossus of Greek fame, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Liberty promises peace, more freedom and posterity to the new arrivals. The Colossus of Rhodes, however, was a reminder of a military victory by Rhodes in 280 B.C. where one group of people led by Demetrius was defeated. It was reputed to have been made from war machines left by the conquered army. Also, Liberty in the "New Colossus" represents justice for people who have been tyrannized under oppressive foreign governments, in this way, the Mother of Exiles is reminiscent of another female, statue, that representing blind justice. The "Mother of Exiles" is majestic, and her eyes "command view" (Lichtensetin 199). She is a regnant figure, more like Boudicca than the Victorian True Woman. Moreover, the sonnet glorifies the statue to symbolize American ideals as well, because the words promise to transform the alien outsider into an insider with the promise of a homeland with its benefits of citizenship (247). Just as God placed His lamp in the hand of despised Israel in "The Choice," so Liberty lifts her "lamp beside the golden door" for the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and the "wretched refuse" of "teeming shore[s]" (Lazarus I 203). The woman statue is thus likened to God, and to the prophet Moses Ben Maimon, God's instrument. Like them, Liberty holds a previously male and divine object, the torch. In this way, too, Emma, the marginal Jewish woman poet became an insider by "valorizing" the refugee outsider, and by incorporating American ideals of freedom in a poem written by a non-Christian American writer. To this day, Emma Lazarus and her sonnet are so much a tradition of the Statute of Liberty, that one biographer, Eve Merriam, calls her book about Emma Woman with a Torch, thus making Emma the statue personified.
In the sonnet, Liberty holds a torch, whose "Flame /Is the imprisoned lightening." She has a "beacon-hand" which "Glows world-wide welcome" and she lifts her "lamp beside the golden door" to light the way for the refugees seeking livery (Lazarus Poems I 203). Liberty is, in effect, the symbol of the Patriotic American Jew who must be a beacon of enlightenment and who must shed light on the equivalence of Jewish and American ideals. Once again, knowledge and truth are symbolized by a lamp, here represented by Liberty's torch. The torch is also symbolic of God's and Natural Law and appears in different forms in other poems. For example, in "The New Year: Rosh-Hashana 5643," "orchards burn their lamps of very gold." the orchards, God's natural phenomena are associated with the lamp images. Therefore, it is both natural and divine law that Israel should blow its sacred cornet and rise again (Lazarus II 1).
Ironically, Lazarus was not invited to the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. For one thing, she was female, and it was feared by the organizers of the ceremony that women would be trampled or hurt during boisterous cheering (Levinson 4-5). For another thing, the pedestal had not yet been planned, so the plaque containing Emma's poem was not on the statue (4-5). Yet, it is still ironic that, in its memorial to Emma, written in 1888, The Century is silent on "The New Colossus," though the magazine highlights almost every other phase of her career and the major poems that exemplify those phases. Perhaps the omission was also due to the fact that the poem had not yet been inscribed on the statute.
Emma Lazarus tried through her writings to prove that she could be Jew, American, and Poet all wrapped up in one. Later biographers like Mary Cohen praised her for achieving that goal (Lichtenstein 252). Cohen wrote about Lazarus in an 1893 edition of Poet Lore and praised her for being an example of "noble womanhood, much sought after by society" (Cohen 320). Cohen emphasized the culture and refinement of the Lazarus home as well as Emma's connection with Emerson, emphasizing that it was Emma's femininity that strengthened her talents and allowed her to fulfill all three roles (320). The predicament of the refugees, according to Cohen, drew forth Emma's womanly qualities, so that her writing in no way took her from her prescribed role as a Daughter, if not Mother, of Israel. By making the connection with womanhood and writing in this way, Cohen validated herself and other would-be Jewish women writers by showing that writing in no way took them away from their traditional roles, it even enhanced them. Yet, Cohen also acknowledges Emma's attempts to align herself with male artists, and notes an affinity between the minds of Heine and Lazarus (324). Though Emma's work fell into relative obscurity after 1920, Jewish women writers still honored her and followed her example. In time, her sonnet was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, and, in a way, the slight, dark-eyed woman got her wish, for her words have become the epitome of the American dream of freedom for outcasts. The words, so full of imagery, were an attempt to merge two cultures, the Jewish and American, and were written by a woman who devoted her career to achieving a genderless fame in connecting two different worlds.

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