Tales From The Crypt: A Poet Revisited

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The grave of Emma Lazarus is located on a hillside cemetery in Queens, New York. Emma’s headstone stands beside those which mark the final resting place of her parents, Esther and Moses Lazarus, and two of Emma’s sisters, Josephine and Sarah.

GPS coordinates for Emma’s grave.

My mission to find and photograph the headstone of Emma Lazarus was prompted by a story written by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You see, Emma was a poet, and while her name may not ring a bell, her sonnet, “The New Colossus,” engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty with its famous line “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” is recognized the world over as the call to the disenfranchised to come to America to realize their own version of the American dream.

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Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) is a person worth knowing. Her voice resonates with me. Discovering her poems made me curious and took me down a path to discover she was a young woman with high ideals, and then as now, high ideals didn’t come cheap. Her writing and writings about her life bear this out. By today’s standards, her family would be labeled as the one percent, most likely derided by their fellow Americans for their personal wealth. That’s right, Emma Lazarus lead a privileged life. She was well-educated, well-connected, and well-respected within her elite social circle. You wouldn’t know it by her gravesite, but it was written about beloved Emma that “With her own hand she has sown the seeds that shall transform her grave into a garden…”

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As you can see, her grave is no garden. Of course, this was metaphor, but still…

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Acres and acres of dearly beloved dearly departed take their place in silent galleries etched by sun and wind and rain. What remains of who they were in life are admissions into the record by those they left behind and perceptions of those who came after. Emma’s story leaves me with more questions than answers. Does nature thrill while passion spills from vessels overflowing with contempt? Do hearts beat with abundant life or merely the longing for an after life? Do we hold sacred the promise once embraced by people of conscience or let it slip the surely bonds of earth unobserved?

I wonder. I wonder with every breath of freedom I draw.

Poets through the ages give us a glimpse into the future. It is easy to see when we look into the past. Human experience tells the tale we must not ignore. Why not break through the ancient barrier that the art of race or creed or rank devises [still, to breed] hatred between heart and heart? Is this a question to which the answer is past due or an idea whose time has come? The system removed from the system, could we see our way to finally letting hatred rest in peace? I do not know. One thing is for certain, I will ask these and other questions until I find answers or die trying.

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Click here to read more about Emma Lazarus.

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path to gravesite

24 thoughts on “Tales From The Crypt: A Poet Revisited

  1. What a lovely walk through a thoughtful piece of our cycle of life, all rooted in the words of one woman who most of us don’t know. Thank you for this. I am going to learn more, so thank you for this as well.

  2. Dear Honie,

    What a beautiful tribute to Emma. There’s a wonder in old cemeteries, isn’t there? How many untold stories are we missing? I’m looking for just the right adjective for your post. Wonderful? Evocative? Educational? Altogether lovely? All of the above.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    1. Dear Rochelle,

      I would not have been inspired to investigate the life of Emma Lazarus if not for you. So, it seems I owe you a BiG thank you. THANK YOU! I am pleased that you enjoyed it.

      Peace,
      Honie

    1. I’m not surprised. Women seem to have a way of fading into HIStory. Everybody wants to get all up in arms over gender roles, because we aren’t taught that there have been many women throughout recorded time who had a voice and knew how to use it, women who did the same work as a man, not without equal pay, but no pay at all. Look up the name Rosalind Franklin. You may be totally surprised to learn about her critical role in the discovery of the structure of DNA. You may not be surprised to learn that her research was obtained and used without her permission by the men who were credited with this achievement, received Nobel Prize for it, and who did not bother to credit Rosalind Franklin.

  3. Very interesting blog. I knew I recognized the name when I read it, but I needed the prompt of hearing what she wrote. And…..if that was a door to a crypt with the woman it was beautiful. You should submit that to the blog Legion of Door Whores.

    1. The patina of the few ornaments in this cemetery made them stand out. The lady on the door was one, in a row of crypts with stained glass windows which added softness and a touch of beauty to the landscape.

  4. I love this. Your words are every bit as poetic as Emma Lazarus’. And I can’t help but notice, despite her wealth, she died at an incredibly early age. I’d rather be part of the 99% and live to the ripe old age of 88 myself.

    1. Your compliment is heartfelt and very much appreciated, Mr. Petruska. Emma did leave this life at a young age. The record states simply that she died of cancer. I doubt her economic status played a role in her death. It does, however, seem to have played a role in how she lived her short life with dignity. She could afford to be so passionate about the poverty and maltreatment she observed in the world. A testament to why what we do matters regardless of the labels others choose for us. After all, in the end, what’s left?

  5. Beautiful post. I really liked this statement: “What remains of who they were in life are admissions into the record by those they left behind and perceptions of those who came after.” So true. I’m surprised given Emma Lazarus’s famous words I haven’t heard of her. Then again, there are probably many notable women in history whose names haven’t been well circulated.

    1. I thought about that the entire time we walked around the cemetery, just how little we know of the millions of people buried in cemeteries throughout the country. Not only those who made contributions to art and science, but those who were beloved just for being alive. Their everyday lives neither exalted nor studied by anthropologists. Noted only for their existence by someone whose life they enriched.You are right, there are many notable women whose names time has forgotten.

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