5 Else Lasker-Schüler Lines to Live By

Read some of the radical poet's most famous words, which still resonate today

By Google Arts & Culture

Landscape with a Sun (c. 1915) by Jacoba van Heemskerck van BeestNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Else Lasker-Schüler lived a life as explosive and rich as the language of her strange poems. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in late 19th-century Germany, she became an active member of Berlin’s bohemian arts scene, and is now remembered as one of the few prominent women of the Expressionist movement. 

She would often perform cross-dressed at cabaret nights, and was associated with the era’s foremost social activists, writers, and artists. Throughout her life, she wrote poems of such passionate intensity and ecstatic imagery that some academic readers still recoil from them today.

After the end of her third marriage, she was left penniless. In 1932 she won the prestigious Kleist Prize for her literary work, but was soon after assaulted by a group of Nazis. She fled pre-war Germany and ended up in Jerusalem, where she lived for the rest of her life as a beloved and eccentric poet, writing some of her most moving work during this exile. 

Here are some of Lasker-Schüler’s most memorable lines of poetry, whose power still resonates to this day, alongside Expressionist works by her peers and contemporaries.

Tree (c. 1915) by Jacoba van Heemskerck van BeestNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC


What sun’s fire could ever melt my ice, / What mere thunderbolt could crack me! 

Lasker-Schüler was born to a Jewish banking family in North Germany. Her first book of poems was published in 1902, only months before the end of her first unsuccessful marriage. The book included the fantastical imagery which was to become her trademark, full of ‘fire’ and ‘thunderbolts’. As can be seen in these lines from the poem ‘Weltschmerz’, the early work also displayed her powerful belief in her individual self, even in the face of adversity. 

Dancing Couple (1909) by Ernst Ludwig KirchnerNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC


I want your branchings woven into mine, / when sun-crazed summer cries out loud for rain, / and bursts the thunderhead! 

Though her first marriage fizzled, Lasker-Schüler was no stranger to passionate love. Her early poems are full of erotic energy, which she expressed even before entering Berlin’s bohemian scene, as shown in these stimulating lines from ‘Viva!’, written in 1902. 

Nudes under Trees (1911) by Franz MarcKunstpalast


My heart plucks / roses at your mouth. 

From this eye into you love skips; / You track its butterflies. 

These lines are taken from a 1917 poem called ‘To the Golden Knight’. They are probably addressed to Johannes Holzmann, Lasker-Schüler’s good friend and possible lover. Fond of nicknames, the poet named him ‘Senna Hoy’, which reverses his first name. Holzmann was a social activist, vocally defending homosexual rights in Germany. He was driven out of the country, and was dying in a Russian prison when Lasker-Schüler wrote these lines to him. 

The rich metaphorical language and sensual imagery has struck some readers as overly sincere, maybe even clichéd, but Lasker-Schüler fans defend her honest commitment to emotional expression.

Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor ((1919)) by Roy de MaistreArt Gallery of New South Wales


At home I have a blue piano, / I, who cannot play a note. 

It stands in the gloom of the cellar door, / now that the whole world has grown coarse. 

Taken from one of her most well-known poems, ‘My Blue Piano’, these lines show Lasker-Schüler at her most Expressionistic, distorting reality into symbols and emotions. The poem was written in 1943 when the poet lived exiled in Jerusalem, whilst her kin faced oppression and extermination at the hands of the Nazis. The poem stands as an invocation of both despair and hope in the darkest of times. The blue piano is silent in the gloom, but the possibility of it one day sounding a note remains. 

Untitled (Composition) (ca. 1921) by Jacoba van HeemskerckBauhaus Dessau Foundation


We two shall take our rest in love, like creatures all but vanished, / curled in a nest in the high bamboo beyond the reach of the world. 

These are the closing lines of one of Lasker-Schüler’s last poems, entitled ‘A Love Song’. The poet who once wrote in defiance of thunder itself now retreats into a sheltered nest, “all but vanished.” But she keeps her faith in love as a unifying force within a threatening world. The poem could be addressed to any of her husbands or lovers, but may also be a maternal call out to her estranged son, whose death in 1927 threw her into severe depression. Characteristically, this late poem is full of hurt, but also hope. 

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