Else Lasker-Schüler (February 11, 1869 – January 22, 1945) was a Jewish German poet and playwright (1869-1945) famous for her bohemian lifestyle in Berlin. She was one of the few women affiliated with the Expressionist movement. Lasker-Schüler fled Nazi Germany and lived out the rest of her life in Jerusalem.
Schüler was born in Elberfeld, now a district of Wuppertal. Her mother, Jeannette Schüler (nee Kissing) was a central figure in her poetry, and the main character of her play Die Wupper was inspired by her father, Aaron Schüler, a Jewish banker.
In 1894, Else married the physician Jonathan Berthold Lasker (the older brother of Emanuel Lasker, a World Chess Champion) and moved with him to Berlin, where she trained as an artist. On August 24, 1899 her son Paul was born and her first poems were published. She published her first full volume of poetry, Styx, three years later, in 1902. On April 11, 1903, she and Berthold Lasker divorced and on November 30, she married Georg Lewin. His pseudonym, Herwarth Walden, was her invention.
Lasker-Schüler's first prose work, Das Peter-Hille-Buch, was published in 1906, after the death of Hille, one of her closest friends. In 1907, she published the prose collection Die Nächte der Tino von Bagdad, followed by the play "Die Wupper" in 1909, which was not performed until later. A volume of poetry called the Meine Wunder, published in 1911, established Lasker-Schüler as the leading female representative of German expressionism.
After separating from Herwarth Walden in 1910 and divorcing him in 1912, she found herself penniless and dependent on the financial support of her friends, in particular Karl Kraus. That year, she met Gottfried Benn. An intense friendship developed between them which found its literary outlet in a large number of love poems dedicated to him. The death of her son in 1927, however, sent her into a deep depression.
Despite winning the Kleist Prize in 1932, as a Jew she was physically harassed and threatened by the Nazis. She emigrated to Zürich but there, too, she could not work. She traveled to Palestine in 1934 and finally settled in Jerusalem in 1937. In 1938 she was stripped of her German citizenship and the outbreak of World War II prevented any return to Europe.
There is a memorial plaque to Else Lasker-Schüler at Motzstraße 7, Berlin-Schöneberg, where she lived from 1924 to 1933. Part of this street was renamed Else-Lasker-Schüler-Straße in 1996. In Elberfeld in Wuppertal there is now a school named after her (The "School without Racism"), and a memorial stele was erected on Herzogstrasse, Wuppertal.
In Jerusalem, there is a small street named for Else Lasker-Schuler in the neighborhood of Nayot - Rehov Else. Perched on a ridge in the Jerusalem Forest, very close to the Kennedy Memorial (Yad Kennedy), is a sculpture in her honor resembling a slender tree trunk with wings.
In 2007, her final days in Jerusalem were commemorated in the BBC radio play MY BLUE PIANO by the Scottish playwright Marty Ross (Radio 4 2007) which combined the facts of her dying days with the fantasies of her inner life. This can be heard at
Lasker-Schüler left behind several volumes of poetry and three plays, as well as many short stories, essays and letters. During her lifetime, her poems were published in various magazines, among them the journal Der Sturm edited by her second husband, and Karl Kraus' 'Fackel. She also published many anthologies of poetry, some of which she illustrated herself. Examples are:
A large part of her work is composed of love poetry, but there are also deeply religious poems and prayers. Transitions between the two are often quite fluid. Her later work is particularly rich in biblical and oriental motifs. Lasker-Schüler was very free with regard to the external rules of poetic form, however her works thereby achieve a greater inner concentration. She was also not averse to linguistic neologisms.
A good example of her poetic art is "Ein alter Tibetteppich" ("An old Tibetan rug"), a poem which was reprinted many times after its first publication in Sturm, the first of these being in Fackel.
|"Ein alter Tibetteppich"||"An old Tibetan rug"|
|Deine Seele, die die meine liebet,||Your soul, which loveth mine,|
|Ist verwirkt mit ihr im Teppichtibet.||Is woven with it into a rug-Tibet.|
|Strahl in Strahl, verliebte Farben,||Strand by strand, enamoured colours,|
|Sterne, die sich himmellang umwarben.||Stars that courted each other across the length of heavens.|
|Unsere Füße ruhen auf der Kostbarkeit,||Our feet rest on the treasure|
|Süßer Lamasohn auf Moschuspflanzenthron,||Sweet lama-son on your musk-plant-throne|
|Wie lange küßt dein Mund den meinen wohl||How long has your mouth been kissing mine,|
|Und Wang die Wange buntgeknüpfte Zeiten schon?||And cheek to cheek colorfully woven times?|
An Old Tibetan Carpet
Your soul that's sewn in love and mine Threads in Carpet-Tibet-Land entwine.
Colours in love, ray within ray, Stars courting each other across the sky.
Our feet rest on such weaving rare Thousands-on-thousands-of stitches-far.
Om musc-plant-throne, sweet Lama's son, How long do my lips kiss your lips And cheek the cheek as brightly-buttoned seasons run?
by Felix de Villiers (copyright)