Page 173 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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KESSNER/FROM PARNASSUS TO MOUNT ZION
1 6 1
love o f art for art’sown sake, with which the somber Hebrew
was in perpetual conflict. What could be the result o f
imprisoning two such antagonistic natures in a single body?
What but the contradictions, the struggles, the tears, the vio­
lences that actually ensued.50
Emma might as well have been writing about herself. Moreo­
ver, the epigraph to this essay is one o f her finest poems, “Venus
o f the Louvre.” This sonnet, like her earlier sonnet “The New
Colossus” is again addressed to a female statue; but this poem is
inspired by Heine as well. The Venus de Milo, furthermore,
stands enclosed at the end o f a long hall in a museum; the
“Mother o f Exiles” stands free in the open air:
Down the long hall she glistens like a star,
The foam-born mother o f Love, transfixed to stone,
Yet none the less immortal, breathing on.
Time’s brutal hand hath maimed but could not mar.
When first the enthralled enchantress from afar
Dazzled mine eyes, I saw not her alone,
Serenely poised on her world-worshipped throne,
As when she guided once her dove-drawn car,
But at her feet a pale, death-stricken Jew,
Her life adorer, sobbedfarewell to love.
Here
Heine
wept! Here still he weeps anew,
Nor ever shall his shadow lift or move,
While mourns one ardent heart, one poet-brain,
For vanished Hellas and Hebraic pain.
“Venus o f the Louvre” was written in May o f 1884, and it is at
once, a statement o f amazement upon first seeing the glorious
Greek statue, the Venus de Milo. But the shift in the sonnet at the
ninth line presents a sudden vision o f another figure — the
“death-stricken” Jew, Heine. Though at this point, Emma Laza­
rus sees a great similarity between herself and the German poet
insofar as they both struggle with a powerful attraction to the
Hellenic and the Hebraic, she does not as yet know that by
August, she too would be “death-stricken.” But in 1887, in the
final months o f her illness, just before her journey home to
America, Emma makes a last visit to the statue o f Venus she so
50 Morris Schappes, p. 90.