Nature and Our Ideals
Marie Eugenie delle Grazie (1864–1931) is a significant figure in Rudolf Steiner's life; so significant, in fact, that most of the seventh chapter of his autobiography, The Course of My Life, is devoted to a description of the circumstances surrounding this young poetess and her circle.
Born in Weisskirchen, she traced her ancestry to the Alsace on her mother's side and Venice — with strong Arabic connections — on her father's side. She had a deep relationship with her father, who died early in her life, soon after which her family moved to Vienna. Here delle Grazie received a Catholic education and began composing her first poems. At age eleven she wrote so well that her poems attracted the notice of Laurenz Mullner, a Catholic priest who became a surrogate “father,” teacher, mentor and life-long friend. By the age of sixteen delle Grazie was considered by many to be a poet of genius; by her eighteenth year she had assembled around her a group of artists, writers, composers, and above all, brilliant Catholic theologians and philosophers. It was here, especially, that there was the most profound and lively concern with the figure of St. Thomas Aquinas.
It was in the midst of this circle of delle Grazie and Mullner that Rudolf Steiner worked before his twenty-eighth year. The Middle Ages and its powerfully Roman Catholic Spirit still lived and breathed amidst this group; and this Spirit afforded Dr. Steiner some of his deepest insights at this time, especially in relation to destiny and freedom. Even the anti-Goetheanism and pessimism that predominated — the mood that Karl Julius Schroer called “the slag of burned-out spirits” — became for Rudolf Steiner a window into the world of beings, both progressive and retarding, that work into the perceptible world. He writes in The Course of My Life:
I felt that I was in a spiritual atmosphere which was of genuine benefit to me. For this purpose I did not need agreement in ideas; I needed earnest and striving humanity, susceptible to the spiritual.
The soul mood of delle Grazie's poem Die Natur, at once despondent and defiant, so revolutionary in its time (the 1880's) has in the course of a century become the dominant mood of world culture. In our time it is heard without end, reprinted in the most respected journals of philosophy and literature, performed on the stages of sophisticated theaters, recorded and amplified in the primitive rhythms and despairing lyrics of popular songs. Marie Eugenie delle Grazie herself stands as the prototype of the young person who reaches the summit of her intellectual and artistic powers at about age eighteen, but can sustain very little after age twenty-one — a type unusual in her time, but increasingly common today.
Rudolf Steiner perceived that delle Grazie's personality and poetry were harbingers of such a future soul state. His short essay “Nature and Our Ideals” — written as a letter to the poetess, as a direct appeal to her individuality — sketches a path of healing. For the sake of the young Rudolf Steiner, the essay provides a means of harmonizing delle Grazie's wild powers of darkness with his own methodical mode of cognition: for the sake of the world, this essay lays out an idealistic world view that finds its fullest treatment in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Delle Grazie was to write, later in life:
My writings are manifestations of an activity that has its ultimate secrets below the threshold of consciousness ... the real characteristic of my art is enigmatic even to me. It belongs to dark and elementary powers ... There is still something else — my conscious Ego!
When the “dark and elementary powers” are allowed to run rampant, the result is all that passes for modern culture, especially in painting, music and drama. When the “something else,” the Conscious Ego, is sought, it must be striven for along the lines of A Theory of Knowledge, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and the following letter, Nature and Our Ideals.
Suggestions for further Reading:
The Course of My Life,
Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, New York.
Emil Bock, “Ephesus and the Castle of the Grail,” Golden Blade, 1967
Robert Steiser, “Von Rudolf Steiners Jahren in Wien,” Mitteilungen, Weihnachten, 1976.