Page 160 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
three. The apparently lukewarm reception of this piece can be
deduced from Emma’s remark in a letter to Ellen Emerson,
December 28th 1876. She writes, “I have given up all dreams of
having my play produced on the stage — I am afraid it is not act­
able.”21 Emma Lazarus is still a writer in search of a subject that
will allow her to speak in her own voice. She is not quite ready to
find it in her own Jewish heritage, for in 1876 she cannot find any
other way to connect with Judaism than through religion. It is not
for want of trying, for she had written a poem in 1872 entitled
“Outside the Church”22 printed in
Index,
a transcendentalist
journal. In this piece she describes the great physical beauty of
the building, the glorious sounds of the music; she is almost
caught up in the aesthetics of the “Mother Church” and, she
writes, “I waited, but the message did not come / No voice
addressed my reason, and my heart / shrank to itself in chill dis­
couragement.” “Estranged and unsatisfied” she turns to nature
in which she finds “all things are sacred, in each bush a God.” In
this rather pagan version of transcendentalism, Emma is yet too
much in the debt of Emerson.
The next volume that Emma Lazarus was to bring out is
Poems
and Ballads of Heinrich Heine,
published in 1881.23 The volume
was very well received, and even today the translations are con­
sidered to be among the best.24 The most interesting aspect of
this volume, however, with regard to Emma’s journey from Par­
nassus, lies in what she chooses to translate and what she writes in
the introduction. She does not include many poems on Jewish
themes; none of Heine’s “Hebrew Melodies.” This is curious
because by this time she herself was beginning to translate the
medieval Spanish Jewish poets — Judah Halevi, Solomon Ibn
Gabirol and Moses Ibn Ezra. In her introduction she plays down
Heine’s Jewishness and attributes his Jewish consciousness to his
general sentiments regarding egalitarianism and liberal causes.
She includes, however, his poem “Donna Clara” which is about a
love affair between a rabbi’s son and a Spanish lady. Yet, signifi­
cantly, she draws attention to Heine’s unfinished novel,
The Rabbi
21 Letters o f Emma Lazarus, p. 19.
22 Dan Vogel,
Emma Lazarus
(Boston, 1980), pp. 86-87.
23 Emma Lazarus,
Poems and Ballads ofHeinrich Heine
(translations with introduc­
tion), (New York: R. Worthington, 1881).
24 Frederick Ewen, ed.
Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine
(New York, 1948).