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About this Poem 

“City Visions” was published in The Poems of Emma Lazarus (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888). 

City Visions


                                           I.

As the blind Milton’s memory of light,
The deaf Beethoven’s phantasy of tone,
Wrought joys for them surpassing all things known
In our restricted sphere of sound and sight,—
So while the glaring streets of brick and stone
Vex with heat, noise, and dust from morn till night,
I will give rein to Fancy, taking flight
From dismal now and here, and dwell alone
With new-enfranchised senses. All day long,
Think ye ’t is I, who sit ’twixt darkened walls,
While ye chase beauty over land and sea?
Uplift on wings of some rare poet’s song,
Where the wide billow laughs and leaps and falls,
I soar cloud-high, free as the winds are free.

                                           II.

Who grasps the substance? who ’mid shadows strays?
He who within some dark-bright wood reclines,
’Twixt sleep and waking, where the needled pines
Have cushioned all his couch with soft brown sprays?
He notes not how the living water shines,
Trembling along the cliff, a flickering haze,
Brimming a wine-bright pool, nor lifts his gaze
To read the ancient wonders and the signs.
Does he possess the actual, or do I,
Who paint on air more than his sense receives,
The glittering pine-tufts with closed eyes behold,
Breathe the strong resinous perfume, see the sky
Quiver like azure flame between the leaves,
And open unseen gates with key of gold?
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Posthumously famous for her sonnet, "The New Colossus," which is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus is considered America's first important Jewish poet

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Yet life is not a vision nor a prayer,
    But stubborn work; she may not shun her task.
After the first compassion, none will spare
    Her portion and her work achieved, to ask.
She pleads for respite,—she will come ere long
When, resting by the roadside, she is strong.

Nay, for the hurrying throng of passers
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"Since that day till now our life is one unbroken paradise. We live a true brotherly life. Every evening after supper we take a seat under the mighty oak and sing our songs." —Extract from a letter of a Russian refugee in Texas.

Twilight is here, soft breezes bow the grass,
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Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day
     The glorious Maccabean rage,
The sire heroic, hoary-gray,
     His five-fold lion-lineage:
The Wise, the Elect, the Help-of-God,
     The Burst-of-Spring, the Avenging Rod.

From Mizpeh’s mountain-ridge they saw
     Jerusalem’s empty