Browsing the works of Emma Lazarus, famous for the heft and dignity of the words graven on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, we came upon her sonnet “Echoes.” And were surprised.

This is Lazarus in a very different voice—tentative, apologetic . . . the voice of a nineteenth-century woman whose culture constrains not merely her actions but her imagination as well. Who is she to write about matters of importance, she with her “elfin” voice?

And then, three years after “Echoes,” came the immortal “New Colossus.”

 

Echoes

By Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Late-born and woman-souled I dare not hope,
The freshness of the elder lays, the might
Of manly, modern passion shall alight
Upon my Muse’s lips, nor may I cope
(Who veiled and screened by womanhood must grope)
With the world’s strong-armed warriors and recite
The dangers, wounds, and triumphs of the fight;
Twanging the full-stringed lyre through all its scope.
But if thou ever in some lake-floored cave
O’erbrowed by hard rocks, a wild voice wooed and heard,
Answering at once from heaven and earth and wave,
Lending elf-music to thy harshest word,
Misprize thou not these echoes that belong
To one in love with solitude and song.

 

Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) contributed “The New Colossus,” the sonnet containing the lines beginning “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” as a donation to an auction to raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. She wrote poetry from an early age; indeed, her father privately published Poems and Translations: Written Between the Ages of Fourteen and Sixteen when Lazarus was seventeen. Many of the essays, plays, and poems she published highlighted the suffering of Jews in Eastern Europe and the vulnerability of Jewish immigrants in America.