Ich habe zu Hause ein blaues Klavier
Und kenne doch keine Note.
Es steht im Dunkel der Kellertür,
Seitdem die Welt verrohte.
Es spielten Sternenhände vier -
Die Mondfrau sang im Boote-
Nun tanzen die Ratten im Geklirr.
Zerbrochen ist die Klaviatür
Ich beweine die blaue Tote.
Ach liebe Engel öffnet mir -
Ich aß vom bitteren Brote-
Mir lebend schon die Himmelstür,
Auch wider dem Verbote.
“I was born in Thebes, Egypt although I came into the world in Elberfeld in the Rhineland.” This is how Else Lasker-Schüler characterized her background, indicating the separation between imagination and reality, artistic and bourgeois existence that marked her life. To speak for her she created the persona of Jussuf, Prince of Thebes, her alter ego who appears in her writings and drawings and with whose name she often signed her letters. This figure has an important Jewish component. Her Egyptian Jussuf is in fact the biblical Joseph with whom Else Lasker-Schüler identified already as a child. He is Joseph the dreamer and poet, ridiculed by his brothers, betrayed and sold.
Schüler was born in Elberfeld, now a district of Wuppertal. Her mother, Jeannette Schüler (née 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 and occasional chess player 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 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. Her Bohemian lifestyle and eccentric fashion made life in Jerusalem difficult. She tended to spend whatever money she had all at once which made her go for days without food or shelter. Heinz Gerling and the poet Manfred Schturmann came to her aid. Gerling opened a bank account for her and arranged for regular payments to cover her expenses whereas Schturmann edited her work and helped with her dealings with publishers. After her death Schturmann became the trustee of her legacy and during the 1950s and ’60s dealt extensively with publishers in East and West Germany, Switzerland and Austria who wished to publish her works.
In 1944 Lasker-Schüler’s health deteriorated. She suffered a heart attack on January 16, and died in Jerusalem on January 22, 1945. She was buried on the Mount of Olives.
Es rauscht durch unseren Schlaf
Ein feines Wehen wie Seide,
Wie pochendes Erblühen
Über uns beide.
Und ich werde heimwärts
Von Deinem Atem getragen,
Durch verzauberte Märchen,
Durch verschüttete Sagen.
Und mein Dornenlächeln spielt
Mit Deinen urtiefen Zügen,
Und es kommen die Erden
Sich an uns zu schmiegen.
Es rauscht durch unseren Schlaf
Ein feines Wehen wie Seide -
Der weltalte Traum
Segnet uns beide.
Ich suche allerlanden eine Stadt,
Die einen Engel vor der Pforte hat.
Ich trage seinen großen Flügel
Gebrochen schwer am Schulterblatt
Und in der Stirne seinen Stern als Siegel.
Und wandle immer in die Nacht …
Ich habe Liebe in die Welt gebracht, -
Daß blau zu blühen jedes Herz vermag,
Und hab ein Leben müde mich gewacht,
In Gott gehüllt den dunklen Atemschlag.
O Gott, schließ um mich deinen Mantel fest;
Ich weiß, ich bin im Kugelglas der Rest,
Und wenn der letzte Mensch die Welt vergießt,
Du mich nicht wieder aus der Allmacht läßt
Und sich ein neuer Erdball um mich schließt.
Es ist ein Weinen in der Welt,
Als ob der liebe Gott gestorben wär,
Und der bleierne Schatten, der niederfällt,
Komm, wir wollen uns näher verbergen…
Das Leben liegt in aller Herzen
Wie in Särgen.
Du! wir wollen uns tief küssen —
Es pocht eine Sehnsucht an die Welt.
An der wir sterben müssen.