Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

Basic HTML Version

(subsequently reprinted in the two volume 1889 edition of
Poems of Emma Lazarus
) that Judaism had been a dead letter to
Emma before the Russian wave of pogroms in the early eighties.
This has led to a belief that the literary range of her early work
was purely cosmopolitan and that she devoted herself to her own
people only in the last five years of her life. Contrary to the
general impression, however, Emma Lazarus had made her trans-
lations from the German versions of poems by Solomon Ibn Gabirol
and Yehudah Halevi before the pogroms and had contemplated
their inclusion in a volume together with essays about their
authors. The translations from Gabirol appeared in
The Jewish
for January 17, January 31, and August 18, 1879. Those
from Yehudah Halevi were printed in the same periodical on
January 24, February 7, February 14 and February 21, 1879.
These are the poems that were later reprinted in
Songs of a Semite
(1882) and again in the second volume of
The Poems of Emma
(1889). They include Gabirol’s “Night Thoughts” and
“Meditations” and Halevi’s “A Letter to His Friend Isaac” and
“On the Voyage to Jerusalem.” As a matter of fact her play,
Dance to Death
, founded on an incident of medieval persecution
of the Jews in Germany, which first appeared in the
(beginning with June 30 to September 3, 1882) and was
later included in both
Songs of a Semite
Poems of Emma
, was composed, as she wrote to the editors of the
on May 25, 1882, a few years previously. Poems like her
elegy on the death of her uncle, the Reverend Jacques J. Lyons
in 1877, and “ In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport,” written at
the age of eighteen, attest to Emma’s awareness of her Jewish
connections. Her translation of
Poems and Ballads
by Heinrich
Heine with a biographical sketch of the poet, issued in 1881, also
manifests her early Jewish interests.
Emma Lazarus was proud of her Jewish lineage and heritage.
She could not help being so. She was related on her mother’s side
to the celebrated Rabbi Gershom Seixas, the ardent patriot of the
American Revolution who had served the Shearith Israel Congre-
gation for fifty years. When her uncle Judge Albert C. Cardozo,
of the New York Supreme Court, whose name was connected with
the Tweed Ring, resigned in 1871 after a colleague had been
impeached for granting too freely citizenship papers to aliens in
order to procure votes for Tammany, Emma learned to her
mortification, tha t when one son of Israel is publicly accused all