Arts & Entertainment

Poetic License (and Leases)

by Mallory Passuite, 02/15/2012

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  • Emma Lazarus (1849–1887)
    Nearly as iconic as the Statue of Liberty are the words engraved at her feet: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883, the words of "The New Colossus" have since been synonymous with New York City and the American Dream. The plaque outside the poet's former home, at 18 W. 10th St., and the memorial in Battery Park both contain those words.

    But there was more to the poet than that single poem, as revealed in Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles, on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through the summer. The exhibition marks the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. As it explores the life of Lazarus, it tells how the Jewish-American writer and activist was inspired to create the "Colossus" message—revealing that Lazarus was not an immigrant but rather the fourth generation of an elite family of Sephardic-American Jews—and how it was not "The New Colossus" but other works that caused her to be recognized by the likes of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Exhibition highlights include the original manuscript of "The New Colossus," plus a free smartphone walking tour, available for the iPhone and Android.

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