1882 Emma Lazarus poem offers New Years wisdom

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by Rabbi Stephen Pearce

Emma Lazarus is best remembered for "The New Colossus," her majestic 1883 sonnet engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. For more than a century the "lady with the lamp beside the golden door" has greeted the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

While patriotism and belief in the American promise filled her poetry, Lazarus devoted the last part of her life to writing about her people and heritage. In her 1882 poem "The New Year," her tie to America and the Jewish homeland converge, providing a choice: "One rolling homeward to its ancient source,/ One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart."

This elegant, idealistic poem is offered with the hope that it will set the tone for the High Holy Day season, and its hope for peace in Israel, the home of the Jewish heart, will once and for all be realized.

"The New Year"

Rosh Hashanah, 5643

Now while the snow-shroud round

dead earth is rolled,

And naked branches point to frozen skies, —

When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold,

The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn

A sea of beauty and abundance lies,

Then the New Year is born.

Look where the mother of the months uplifts

In the green clearness of the unsunned West,

Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts,

Cool, harvest-feeding dews,

fine-winnowed light;

Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest

Profusely to requite.

Blow, Israel, the sacred coronet! Call

Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb

With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all.

The red, dark year is dead, the year just born

Leads on from anguish wrought

by priest and mob,

To what undreamed-of morn?

For never yet, since on the holy height,

The Temple's marble walls of white and green

Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world's light

Went out in darkness, — never was the year

Greater with potent and with promise seen,

Than this eve now and here.

Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent

Hath been enlarged unto earth's farthest rim.

To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went,

Through fire and blood and

tempest-tossing wave,

Mighty to slay and save.


High above flood and fire ye held the scroll,

Out of the depths ye published still the Word.

No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul:

Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths,

Lived to bear witness to the living Lord,

Or died a thousand deaths.

In two divided streams the exiles part,

One rolling homeward to its ancient source,

One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart.

By each truth is spread, the law unfurled,

Each separate soul contains the nation's force,

And both embrace the world.

Kindle the silver candle's seven rays,

Offer the first fruits of the

clustered bowers,

The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise

Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove

How strength of supreme suffering still is ours.

For Truth and Law and Love.