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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Twelve Moods
GA 40


Poets, seers, and even the shepherds at Bethlehem have reported on the music of the spheres or the sounds of heavenly beings. Goethe heard the thunder tones of the sun as it rose, Dryden a heavenly harmony, Shakespeare the singing of the star- orbs, large and small, like angels. Even our nineteenth century American, Bryant, wrote of “the world of light and their silver- noted chorus.” Is it music they are describing—or the Word? Robert Graves calls it “Star Talk” and overhears a witty, wry conversation on a cold night, somewhat earthbound. May Swenson has recorded the sun's rising with its “first ringing word of potent joy.”

We have been assured of the reality of these heavenly sounds by Rudolf Steiner. In Art in the Light of Mystery Wisdom (December 2, 1922) he speaks about the starry heavens which we see from the earth. After death, however, as we journey out into the universe, we look back at the stars “from the other side.” There we no longer see merely the points of light as star. The fixed stars now are near, the planets further away, and everywhere, on Saturn, on the Moon, on Aries and Taurus, are spiritual beings. Seeing them means at the same time hearing them. From every heavenly body come sounds that we perceive as a singing speech or as a spoken song. Like a great cosmic musical instrument, the fixed stars are ranged in their zodiac circle; the planetary gods are moving actively, for it is they who play upon the instrument.

In our life on earth, the words we speak are an echo of this divine sound. Each consonant has been “spoken” by one of the constellations; each vowel has been “sung” by a planet. We can discover, too, the relationship of our physical body in its structure and movement to the heavenly creative world. Physical language echoes the sounds of the stars; physical movement can trace their movements. Through Rudolf Steiner's heightened ability to see andhear what most of us are blind and deaf to, he was able to give the poem “Zwoelf Stimmungen” (“Twelve Moods”) to the early group of eurythmists in 1915, after they had accomplished their fundamental training.

In each of the twelve stanzas of the “Twelve Moods”, with its seven lines “spoken” by the seven planets—always in the same sequence—there is inbreathing and outbreathing; there are ever-changing moods according to the constellation, expressed by the speech sounds—alas! not to be attained to any degree in the English translation. In each verse the first line carries the Sun's radiance; the second line takes us to the gentle warmth of Venus; the third, to the ego-impelled activity of Mercury; the fourth, to the outgoing aggressiveness of Mars; the fifth, to wisdom-illumined Jupiter; the sixth, to the profound, contemplative mood of Saturn; and the last line, to the creative strength of the Moon, reflecting back the Sun line at the beginning of the verse. In German the fifth and sixth lines—Jupiter and Saturn—always rhyme (another loss in the translation). Rudolf Steiner explained this to the eurythmists: They are the planets furthest away from the earth, and through the rhyme they support each other. He spoke of the whole poem as the journey of the sun through the day: Aries at sunrise, Cancer at noon, Leo in the afternoon, etc. It could also denote, he said later, the changing course of man's life on earth.

There was a eurythmy performance of the “Twelve Moods” at the festive opening of the first Goetheanum in September 1920. On that first stage it must have been unbelievably beautiful, surrounded by the carved forms and columns, beneath the colorful ceiling of the small dome. It is still an impressive event. Jan Stuten's music, introducing each zodiac verse, and the reciting by the Goetheanum Speech Chorus, trained in the earlier days by Marie Steiner, match in objective grandeur the movements of the nineteen eurythmists, twelve standing in an immense outer circle, seven others moving slowly like the hour hand of a clock from one zodiacal figure to the next; the Sun alone, like the minute hand, circles twelve times through the rainbow colors of the “day signs” (Aries through Libra) and the night spectrum (Scorpio through Pisces). Each of the twelve constellations, standing in its unique formative gesture, sings out in movement when its own consonant sounds forth. We hear the first word:Erstehe!(Arise!) and we see Taurus's strong, rolling R, Scorpio's knowing S, Leo's light-filled T, and Gemini's rousing H, while the Sun moves with the three-toned crescendo of the E. When we reach the final line:

May the loss be gain in itself

we have truly witnessed there on the stage and, at the same time within ourselves, a mighty journey. It cannot help but awaken.

Tatiana Kisseleff, one of the first eurythmists, describes in her memoirs (Eurythmie, Malsch 1949, not yet translated) how the group worked on the “Twelve Moods” and on its twin poem, “Das Lied von der Initiation, eine Satire” (“The Song of Initiation, a Satire”). Showing how the zodiac circle and planets' movements for the satire should be changed from what was done in the “Twelve Moods”, Rudolf Steiner told the eurythmists “that we should not think that the gods are continually solemn and serious. They can also laugh! One hears huge peals of laughter in heaven every time we human beings on earth do something foolish!” We are fortunate to be able to include “The Song of Initiation, A Satire”, translated by Virginia Brett, as well as her translation of the “Planet Dance”, a poem given to the eurythmists and described in the “Introductory Words” that Rudolf Steiner spoke in Dornach, Switzerland, on the day that all three cosmic poems were first shown in eurythmy to an audience.

The “Twelve Moods”, like the poetry of theMystery Dramas, was created out of listening. Just as the pounding ocean can be caught in quiet cups and caves of rock, the Word can be heard and caught, as Rudolf Steiner has caught it here. When you study the poem—intellectually, artistically, meditatively—you realize that the blending of meaning, speech sounds and rhythm make it absolutely untranslatable. The effort in the following translations is similar to the vague, black lines the astronomer can draw on paper, charting the tremendous spirals and ellipses of the planets in their courses. Light and space are lost. But the reader, if he will, can bring the translator's effort the compensating effort of light-filled eye and expanding imagination. What is here is merely study material. If it is an incentive to work on the cosmic poems in their original language, it will have accomplished its task.