Kurt Schwitters and England


Biography – Chronology [Stroke]
Born, 20 June 1887, Hannover, Germany

1915: Marries Helma Fischer

1918: First collages [beginning of friendships with Hans Arp and Raoul Hausmann.]

1919: First Merz painting

1922-1923: Dada-Tour [with Theo and Nelly van Doesburg]

1923: First Merzbau in Hannover.

1937: Final emigration from Germany, settles in Lysaker, near Oslo. Beginning of the Second Merzbau [destroyed by fire in 1951]. Schwitters’ works removed from Nazi German museums.

1940: April 9, escape from Oslo. June 8, arrive in England

1940-1941: 17 month in various Britain internment camps, Midlothian, Edinburgh, York, Manchester, Douglas [Isle of Man].

1941: Arrived October, London.

1944: April, London – Schwitters’ suffered his first stroke, 55 year, left him temporarily paralysed on one right side of his body.

1945: Ambleside, [Lake Windermere], Lake District. Schwitters and Edith Thomas [Wantee] lived together for the remaining three years of Schwitters’ life.

1946: Second stroke, February – which left him blind for a time, and it was feared that he might die. October, Schwitters fell and fractured his thigh.

1947: February, Fellowship [by Museum of Modern Art, New York]. June, award [money, Museum, New York], Third Merzbau, overlooking Lake Elterwater and set against the Langdale Pikes. On July 17, Schwitters suffered a lung haemorrhage lasting twelve hours, but made a rapid recovery.

1948: Died, 8 January, Kendal, near Ambleside.


I build my time

by Kurt Schwitters (1945-48)
and L.E. Usher (2015)


I build my time

                     The two of them laughed together a great deal

In gathering for flower

                                   In their dual motion of walking

And throwing out the weed.

That real world was now very far off


I build my time

                       Sweet-smell of the wildflower                          

In gathering fruit

                         The warm wind blowing

And throwing out all that is bad

                                                 She walking across the water

And old and rotten.

                             On the stepping stones.

This time will lead me forward

                                               Yet did he have a previous life?

To death

             As there stones, since in

And God

             In real truth

And Paradise.

                   There was no God?
[1958 Gaberbocchus Press. London]




The Aim


by Kurt Schwitter’s (1947)

and L.E. Usher (2015)



                       Benumbed situation and desolation and confusion and pain

The aim is hurting day and night

                                               His weary. Questions and queries

From spring to autumn

                                                       Stuck in your throat

Over the winter again

                                                   Pale, pale, pale, his wintry face

And on

                                           The complete darkness, frigid Merzbau

By light

                                              The stirring of rodents and bats

You would not believe it was right

                                                       In their hibernating.

You would think it was left

                                                            And then?

Left luggage, left weight.

                                                    The wind starts, the wind constantly,

But the aim hunting and night.

                                                    His mind from the chaos of emotions

The aim is right.

                                                        A swallow rushed past his head

A memorable sight.

                                                           He called her name, Wantee,

Quite –

                                                                                   His last words.


[1958. Gaberbocchus Press, London]




— By Stefan Themerson (friend), Gaberbocchus Press Ltd., London. 1958

  1. 13pp KS : “to exercise the faculty of speech”
  2. 27pp. His Britain passport was granted him the day before he died.
  3. 41pp. Edith Thomas, ‘Wantee’, companion and a nurse: ‘… his mind still vigorous and creative although his body was in a very weak [stroke] … His answer was always: “I have so little time.” He died in the middle of this work in 8 January, 1948, and buried in Ambleside Cemetery.
  4. 53pp. The Aim: ‘There exists however a typewritten copy in which the word “aim” in lines 1 and 9 but not in line reads: “arm”.
  5. photos: Ambleside Ernst Schwitters (son) 37pp and 39pp


— ed & trans by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris. Temple University Press, Philadelphia. 1993. Kurt Schwitters PPPPP : Poems Performance Pieces Proses Plays Poetics.


  1. xxii pp: ‘The goal is serious, the way humorous. Or sarcastic. Or a game. Everybody’s life is wholly like that, when lived without external coercion. We play until death takes us away.’ Kurt Schwitters, in 1946 letter to Christof Spengemann.
  2. 106pp, 1946, ‘She is my fairy queen’, poem.
  3. 114pp, 1947, ‘The Prisoner’, poem.

— by John Elderfield. Thames & Hudson, London, 1985. Kurt Schwitters

197–223pp, Schwitters in Exile