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Archive for June, 2012

I’ve been thinking about the Fourth of July, freedom…and the woman who lent such enduring, eloquent discourse to the statuesque symbol of liberty gracing New York Harbor.  At just 34 years of age, Emma Lazarus left us one of the most enduring and treasured contributions to American literature and culture—”The New Colossus”—engraved in a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Lazarus was the fourth of Esther (Nathan) and Moses Lazarus’s seven children. She grew up in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, and studied mythology, music, American poetry, European literature, German, French, and Italian with private tutors. In 1866, when Emma was only 17, her father had Poems and Translations: Written Between the Ages of Fourteen and Sixteen printed “for private circulation.”

Lazarus devoted herself to her craft; and 146 years after she wrote them, her words entreat and inspire with unmitigated comeliness, clarity and force.  The focus, the passion the labor behind the extraordinary enduring legacy she left in her 38 years (1849-1887) inspires and provokes me.

It gives me pause for thought—what kind of life does one live to earn a place of such uncommon distinction?  How am I living my life?  What is my purpose?  Lazarus’ legacy impassions me to number my days, living them intelligently, wisely, productively.  Whether engraved in bronze at the feet of Lady Liberty or in the fabric of the souls of those entrusted to our care, let us live to leave the legacy we were created to leave—words and works of life, beauty, freedom and truth to do their enduring work.

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Sources:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/lazarus.html; http://www.statueoflibertynow.com/statue-of-liberty-poem.html

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