Poem: 1492 by Emma Lazarus
Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”
In Emma Lazarus’ 1492, the famous American Jewish poet writes to reflect her thoughts and experiences concerning the “two-faced” year of the ‘New World’ from her own double-sided view as both a Jewish woman and an American woman in the United States. For the year of 1492 holds great significance on either side of her cultural identity, though with very vast contrast between the good and the bad events associated with it. From an American standpoint, Lazarus looks at the year 1492 as a year of discovery – of uncovering America – meanwhile from the standpoint of a Jewish person, 1492 was the year in which all Jews were officially banished from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs of the time – causing displacement of Lazarus’ ancestors but also provoking their immigration to the United States where they would go on to find affluence, a bittersweet tragedy of sorts in their history. In the displacement of the Jewish, refuge was sought but made very difficult to find – they were denied in the West and “abhorred” by the East. Lazarus goes on to praise America as the proclaimed ‘New World’ then, “a virgin world where doors of sunset part” as the Jewish found a place in which they were finally welcome to dwell. The last two lines of Lazarus’ depicts this idea of America as the newly discovered world – where any and all are welcome despite race, belief, or class – challenging the “ancient barrier[s]” pitting discriminatory hatred against such groups that differ from the norm as imposed by Spain amongst other nations at the time. In looking at this poem, the one main critical takeaway is that Lazarus’ depiction of America as virginal, “a virgin world” is not entirely true – America was not prior an empty wasteland awaiting its turn to become colonized, rather it was inhabited by Native Americans whom were mistreated and robbed of their territories by people such as Columbus and his accompanying crew.