Page 98 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
86
and his coreligionists before the Duke who had really been incited
by others to the injustice committed. Rashi presented an admir-
able and convincing defense in behalf of the Jews and was set at
liberty. This, however, did not hinder persecutions from bursting
out anew.
Another poem where Rashi figures is “The Death of Rashi,”
written in the period of the few years in the eighties when she
composed practically all her poems devoted to Jewish topics, and
now to be found in the second volume of
The Poems of Emma
Lazarus.
The poem is in the form of a monologue in imitation of
Robert Browning, spoken by Aaron ben Meir. I t is based on a
we'll known legend about Rashi’s death which tells that he had
been struck down by an assassin. The legend further developed
because the Jews could not reconcile themselves to accepting such
an end for the great man, that his young wife, as he was about to
be buried, gave him a philtre which brought him back to life.
The funeral then went on with presumably the empty coffin
lowered in the cemetery at Prague. Rashi however died and was
buried in 1105 at his birthplace, Troyes.
Miss Lazarus in her work set forth the ideals of the Jews, their
love of truth, their choice of the straight, narrow and thorny path
to court what was right, and their preference of spiritual happiness
to material. She showed that they at all times practised the very
precepts praised but often ignored by Christians.
She was highly impressed by tales of Jewish heroism; the story
of the Maccabees appealed to her in particular. This is noticeable
in her martial poem “The Feast of Lights.”
MAJOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICAN LITERATURE
While to us Jews Miss Lazarus is of particular interest, we must
remember she belongs to American Literature at large, occupying
the place of a more than minor poet. Her command of technique
and vocabulary, her brimming with thought and seething with
emotion, mark her a true daughter of the muses. She was a
follower of Emerson and Thoreau, of Wordsworth and Shelley,
of Tennyson and Browning, no less than of Moses Ibn Ezra and
Heine. Her magnificent translations of the two famous love poems
of Alfred de Musset, “The May Night” and “The October Night”
would be enough to give her an immortal name. Yet historians of
American literatures have often passed her by or casually referred
to her. Edmund Clarence Stedman and Whittier, however,
included poems by her in their anthologies. One of the lesser
tragedies of her life was that the man she worshipped, Emerson,