Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887
In the German Jewish poet Heine, Emma Lazarus found an important kinship and inspiration. Her interest in him spanned the course of her career. From her early translations to her essay "The Poet Heine," which appeared in The Century three years before her death, he was a constant subject.
His work, like her own, ranged from the romantic to the overtly political and satirical. She also described Heine's Jewish identity much as she described her own: "No enthusiast for the Hebrew faith,...he was none the less eager to proclaim himself an enthusiast for the rights of the Jews and their civil equality."
As Lazarus explains, Heine felt the pressure and pull of different worlds on his art:
He was a Jew, with the mind and eyes of a Greek....In Heine the Jew there is a depth of human sympathy, a mystic warmth and glow of imagination... an indomitable resistance to every species of bondage.... On the other hand, the Greek Heine...[possesses] a pure and healthy love of art for art's own sake, with which the somber Hebrew was in perpetual conflict.
This description provides a useful key towards understanding Emma Lazarus's own work. She too moved between celebrating Greek myths like Admetus and legendary Hebrew scholars like Rashi. And she believed in both the ideals of art for art's sake and poetry that called for social justice.
- For Lazarus's quote on Heine's Jewish identity, see Selections from Her Poetry and Prose, ed. Morris U. Schappes (New York: Cooperative Book League, 1944) 87. (Note: page numbers vary in later reprints of Selections; see p. 91 in 1967 edition)
- On Lazarus's own feelings about her Jewish identity, see Emma Lazarus, "My dear Doctor Gottheil," 25 February 1877, The Letters of Emma Lazarus, 1868-1885, ed. Morris U. Schappes (New York, New York Public Library, 1949) 21.
- For Lazarus's quote on Heine's dual nature, see Selections 90. (see p.93 in 1967 edition)