Page 158 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
wrong.”15Perhaps Howells, the realist, found
Admetus
too deriva­
tive and artificial.
Nevertheless, in 1871
Admetus and Other Poems
was published by
Hurd and Houghton. The major poems of this volume are both
curious and suggestive —
Admetus, Orpheus, Lohengrin,
and
Tannheuser
— two Greek myths and two German legends about
women who sacrificed themselves for the sake of men, three
accounts of poetic singers. Emma is still struggling to find her
own voice, but looking in the wrong place. But, the last of the
shorter poems in the volume has as its first line, “How long, and
yet how long”— an allusion to the Hebrew Bible. The subject of
the poem is the call to abandon alien ancient and European
sources and to find inspiration in “the fresh young world” of
America.
Admetus
was well received both in England and in America —
particularly by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the critic of the
Atlantic,
great friend of Emily Dickinson, and a man who had
been an abolitionist distinguished as commander of a black regi­
ment in the Civil War. Higginson had met Emma in Newport in
1872, and in a letter to his sisters he commented that Emma was a
rather interesting person. But he adds, “She has never seen an
author till lately, though she has corresponded with Emerson. It
is curious to see how mentally famished a person may be in the
very best society.”16 One suspects that Higginson has confused
mental voraciousness with mental starvation. Fortunately, at this
point the well known critic began to take over Emerson’s role as
mentor, for Emma was soon to suffer a severe blow to her pride
when she discovered that Emerson, her great friend and advisor,
had left her out of his personal anthology of English and Ameri­
can poets,
Parnassus,
published in 1874. This should not have
come as quite such a surprise, for in 1870 Emerson had sent back
the
Orpheus
manuscript without reading it. He wrote to her, “I
send back the
Orpheus
with great humiliation. I told you in
advance I was not to be trusted for any reading for months, & I
have found my bondage worse than I then thought. . . .”17 Per­
haps the old poet was growing tired of his role and her need for it.
15
Ibid.,
p. 13.
16 Morris U. Schappes, ed.
The Letters of Emma Lazarus, 1868-1885
(New York,
1949), p. 18. Hereinafter referred to as Letters o f Emma Lazarus.
17 Letters to Emma Lazarus, p. 14.