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  4. In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport by Emma Lazarus
In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport

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Here, where the noises of the busy town,
   The ocean's plunge and roar can enter not,
We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,
   And muse upon the consecrated spot.

No signs of life are here: the very prayers
   Inscribed around are in a language dead;
The light of the "perpetual lamp" is spent
   That an undying radiance was to shed.

What prayers were in this temple offered up,
   Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,
By these lone exiles of a thousand years,
   From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!

How as we gaze, in this new world of light,
   Upon this relic of the days of old,
The present vanishes, and tropic bloom
   And Eastern towns and temples we behold.

Again we see the patriarch with his flocks,
   The purple seas, the hot blue sky o'erhead,
The slaves of Egypt,—omens, mysteries,—
   Dark fleeing hosts by flaming angels led.

A wondrous light upon a sky-kissed mount,
   A man who reads Jehovah's written law,
'Midst blinding glory and effulgence rare,
   Unto a people prone with reverent awe.

The pride of luxury's barbaric pomp,
   In the rich court of royal Solomon—
Alas! we wake: one scene alone remains,—
   The exiles by the streams of Babylon.

Our softened voices send us back again
   But mournful echoes through the empty hall:
Our footsteps have a strange unnatural sound,
   And with unwonted gentleness they fall.

The weary ones, the sad, the suffering,
   All found their comfort in the holy place,
And children's gladness and men's gratitude
   'Took voice and mingled in the chant of praise.

The funeral and the marriage, now, alas!
   We know not which is sadder to recall;
For youth and happiness have followed age,
   And green grass lieth gently over all.

Nathless the sacred shrine is holy yet,
   With its lone floors where reverent feet once trod.
Take off your shoes as by the burning bush,
   Before the mystery of death and God.

Source: 1871
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In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport

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  • Emma Lazarus was born in New York City to a wealthy family and educated by private tutors. She began writing and translating poetry as a teenager and was publishing translations of German poems by the 1860s. Her father privately printed her first work in 1866 and the next year, her first collection, Poems and Translations (1867), appeared from a commercial press. The book gained the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others. Over the next decade, Lazarus published a second volume of poetry, Admetus and Other Poems (1871); the novel Alide: An Episode in Goethe’s Life (1874); and a play in verse, The Spagnoletto (1876). Reading George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda, with its exploration of Jewish identity, stirred Lazarus to consider her own heritage. In the 1880s, she took up the cause—through both poetry and prose—against the persecution of Jews in Russia, publishing a polemical pamphlet The Century (1882) and...

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