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How Poet Emma Lazarus Inspired Laurie Anderson

by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Emma Lazarus. Engraving by T. Johnson, 1872. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Emma Lazarus. Engraving by T. Johnson, 1872.

… This past Valentine’s Day, Emma Lazarus and Laurie Anderson’s lives collided in the multi-century continuum we call New York.

… [A] documentary crew was setting up for her arrival in Lazarus’s former home at 18 West 10th Street. The former Lazarus home is anything but a museum. It is a private, eye-popping, five-story townhouse that even in its present incarnation evokes the Gilded Age.

An author as famous as Lazarus was in her day now owns the home: writer and cultural critic Andrew Solomon.

Anderson remembered back to when she was as a child: “I’m pretty sure we read the poem in our elementary room, maybe even with a hand over our hearts.” The idea of a shore where immigrants arrived stuck with her, and it resonates with her even more in 2019.

She said she could see the statue every day from the window of her place near the West Side Highway.

And then the poetry recording of “The New Colossus” began. …

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 worldwide 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!

(To read the complete article, please visit The Forward.)