Emmy Hennings (born Emma Maria Cordsen, 17 January 1885 – 10 August 1948) was a performer and poet. She was also the wife of celebrated Dadaist Hugo Ball. Despite her own achievements, it is difficult to come by information in English about Hennings that is not directly related to her relationship with Hugo Ball. Several biographies of Hennings have been published in German.
Life and work
After the end of her first marriage in 1906, Hennings was an itinerant performer, travelling over much of the European continent. She was a performer at the Cabaret Simplizissimus in Munich, when she met Ball in 1913.
At the time, Hennings was already a published poet, whose works had appeared in left-wing publications called Pan and Die Aktion. In 1913 she also published a short poetry collection called Ether Poems, or Äthergedichte in German. Later, Hennings was a collaborator to the magazine Revolution, which was founded by Ball and Hans Leybold.
Hennings and Ball moved to Zurich in 1915, where they took part in the founding of the Cabaret Voltaire, which marked the beginning of the Dada movement. Hennings was a regular performer at the Cabaret Voltaire. Her performances included a role in Das Leben des Menschen (the Life of a Man), in which she appeared with Ball. This was the German premiere of the play by Leonid Andreev. Hennings also performed in a piece written by Ball, called Krippenspiel. After the Cabaret Voltaire ended, Hennings and Ball toured, performing mostly in hotels. Hennings sang, did puppetry, and danced to music composed by Ball. She also recited her own poetry. In 1916 Ball and Hennings created Arabella, their own ensemble troupe, where Hennings performed under the name Dagny. Hennings married Ball on 21 February 1920. Although they had no children together, Hennings had a daughter, Annemarie, from a previous relationship. Hennings, who outlived Ball by two decades, lived in Magliaso, Switzerland from 1942 to 1948. She died at a clinic in Sorengo, Switzerland.
As an artist
In The Magic Bishop: Hugo Ball, Dada Poet, author Erdmute Wenzel White writes that Hennings “was admired by expressionists as the incarnation of the cabaret artist of her time... The shining star of the Voltaire, according to the Zuricher Post (Zurich Post), her role in Dada has not been adequately acknowledged.” (p. 11).
White also cites a poem by Johannes Becher which he uses as evidence that Emmy served as a muse for other artists of the time:
"It was in Munich, at the Café Stefanie,
Where I recited for you, Emmy, poems
That I dared tell only you,"
The following poem is an example of Hennings' poetry:
Dir ist als ob ich schon gezeichnet wäre
Und auf der Totenliste stünde.
Es hält mich ab von mancher Sünde.
Wie langsam ich am Leben zehre.
Und ängstlich sind oft meine Schritte,
Mein Herz hat einen kranken Schlag
Und schwächer wird's mit jedem Tag.
Ein Todesengel steht in meines Zimmers Mitte.
Doch tanz ich bis zur Atemnot.
Bald werde ich im Grabe liegen
Und niemand wird sich an mich schmiegen.
Ach, küssen will ich bis zum Tod.
To you it's as if I was already
Marked and waiting on Death's list.
It keeps me safe from many sins.
How slowly life drains out of me.
My steps are often steeped in gloom,
My heart beats in a sickly way
And it gets weaker every day.
A death angel stands in the middle of my room.
Yet I dance till I'm out of breath.
Soon lying in the grave I'll be
And no one will snuggle up to me.
Oh, give me kisses up till death.
- Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary, by Hugo Ball
- Emmy Ball-Hennings: Leben im Vielleicht by Bärbel Reetz. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2001
- Emmy Ball-Hennings: Wege und Umwege zum Paradies: Biographie by René Gass. Zürich: Pendo, 1998
- The Magic Bishop: Hugo Ball, Dada Poet by Erdmute Wenzel White
- Publications by and about Emmy Hennings in the catalogue Helveticat of the Swiss National Library
- Literary estate of Emmy Hennings in the archive database HelveticArchives of the Swiss National Library