In honor of my Guardian Angel Kids Publication about child poet Hilda Conkling found here I decided to write another little article about Emma Lazarus. Have you ever heard of this great poet? I’m sure you have if you have ever heard the poem with the lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” That piece of genius was written by Emma Lazarus, a woman of Jewish lineage, born of a wealthy family but a true advocate for Russian immigrants and Zionism when Zionism hadn’t been really born. Emma Lazarus was a sick child who spent a lot of time home alone, reading. She wrote poetry at age 14 and was published at 17 by her father. But her poems were so inspiring that they caught the eye of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who became her mentor and perhaps, some say, her secret crush. Because she was gutsy and feisty, she sent Emerson a copy of her first book in 1868 and that started a friendship that continued even though she felt slighted by him when when he failed to include her work in his anthology, Parnassus.
Emma Lazarus was a very talented writer, who used her recognition to further the causes she was enthusiastic about. She called for Jews to come together and create a homeland in Palestine long before it was a popular thought. Although of Jewish Lineage, her associations were mostly Christian ones so she found herself not quite fitting in either Christian or Jewish society.
Sadly, though she is most known for the poem “The New Colossus” that graced the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, she was not to see its debut because it happened 16 years after her death from Hodgkin’s disease when she was just 38. Yet, she will be remembered forever for this lovely lilting poem, and the sentiment behind it.
Poetry at its best is an expression of the soul. I think anyone can be a poet if they dig deep into the recesses of what touches them most. The raw wounds we bear often make for the best writing.