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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Four Mystery Plays
GA 14
The Portal of Initiation (Written 1910)

Scene 2

Landscape: rocks and springs. The entire scene is to be thought of as taking place in the-soul of Johannes Thomasius. What follows is the content of his meditation.

(There sounds from the springs and rocks:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

'Tis thus I hear them, now these many years,
These words of weighty import all around.
I hear them in the wind and in the wave:
Out from earth's depths do they resound to me:
And as a tiny acorn's mystery,
Confines the structure of a mighty oak,
So in the kernel of these words there lies,
All elemental nature; all I grasp
Of soul, of spirit, time, eternity.
It seems mine own peculiarities
And all the world besides live in these words:
‘Know thou thyself, O man. Know thou thyself.’

(From the springs and rocks resounds:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

And now—I feel
Mine inmost being terrified to life:
Without the gloom of night doth weave me round,
And deep within my soul thick darkness yawns:
And sounding from this universal gloom
And up from out the darkness of my soul
These words ring forth: ‘Know thou thyself, O man.’

(From the springs and rocks resounds:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

It robs me of my very self: I change
Each hour of day, and am transformed by night.
The earth I follow on its cosmic course:
I seem to rumble in the thunder's peal,
And flash adown the lightning's fierce-forked tongue—
I Am.—Alas, already do I feel
Mine own existence snatched away from me.
I see what was my former carnal shape,
As some strange being, quite outside myself,
And infinitely far away from me.
But now another body hovers near;
And through its mouth I am compelled to speak:—
‘Ah, bitter sorrow hath he brought to me;
So utterly I trusted him of old.
He left me lonely with my sorrow's pain,
He robbed me of the very warmth of life,
And thrust me deep beneath the chill, cold ground.’
Poor soul, 'tis she I left, and leaving her
It was in truth mine own self that I left;
And I must suffer all her pain and woe.
For knowledge hath endowed me with the power
Myself into another's self to fuse.
Ah me! Ye quench again by your own power
The light of inner knowledge ye have brought,
Ye cruel words, ‘Know thou thyself, O man.’

(From the springs and rocks resounds:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

Ye lead me back again within the sphere
Of mine own being's former fantasies.
Yet in what shape know I myself again!
My human form is lost and gone from me;
Like some fierce dragon do I see myself;
Begotten out of primal lust and greed.
And clearly do I see how up till now
Some dim deluding veil of phantom forms
Hath hid from me mine own monstrosity.
Mine own self's fierceness must devour my Self.
And through my veins run like consuming fire
Those words, that once with elemental force
Revealed the core of suns and earths to me.
They throb within my pulse, beat in mine heart;
And even in mine inmost thoughts I feel
Strange worlds e'en now blaze forth like passions fierce.
They are the fruitage of these very words:
‘Know thou thyself, O man. Know thou thyself.’

(From the springs and rocks resounds:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

There,—from that dark abyss, what creature glares?
I feel the chains that hold me chained to thee.
So fast was not Prometheus rivetted
Upon the naked rocks of Caucasus,
I am rivetted and forged to thee
Who art thou, fearful, execrable shape?

(From the springs and rocks resounds:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

Oh yea, I know thee; for thou art myself:
Knowledge doth chain to thee, pernicious beast,
(Enter Maria unnoticed by Johannes.)

Chain mine own self—pernicious beast—to thee.
I willed to flee from thee; but I was blind,
Blinded by glamour of the worlds, whereto
My folly fled to free me from myself;
And now once more within my sightless soul
Blind through these words: ‘Know thou thyself, O man.’

(From the springs and rocks resounds:)
Know thou thyself, O man.

Johannes: (As though coming to himself, sees Maria. The meditation passes to the plane of inner reality.)
Thou here, my friend?

I sought thee, friend, although I know full well
How comforting to thee is solitude,
When many varying thoughts of many men
Have flooded o'er thy soul. I also know
I cannot by my presence help my friend
In this dark hour of strife—yet yearnings vague
Drive me in this same moment unto thee;
When Benedictus' words, instead of light,
Such grievous sorrow drew from thy soul's depths.

How comforting to me is solitude!

Yea, I have sought to find myself therein,
So often when to labyrinths of thought
The joys and griefs of men had driven me.
But now, O friend, that, too, is past and gone.
What Benedictus' words at first aroused
Within my soul, and all that I lived through
When listening to the speeches of those men,
Seems but indeed a little thing, when I
Compare therewith the storm that solitude
With sullen brooding hath brought forth in me.
Ah me! when I recall this solitude!
It hounded me into the voids of space,
And tore me from my very self in twain,
Within that soul to whom I brought such grief
I rose, as though I were that other self.
And there I had to suffer all the pain
Of which I was myself the primal cause.
Ah cruel, sombre, fearful solitude
Thou giv'st me back unto myself indeed,
Yet but to terrify me with the sight
Of mine own nature's fathomless abyss.
Man's final refuge hath been lost to me:
I have been robbed of solitude.

I must repeat what I have said before.
Alone can Benedictus succour thee;
Only from him may we obtain support
And that firm basis which we both do lack.
For know thou this I also can no more
Endure the riddle of my life, unless
His gentle guidance solveth it for me.
Full often have I kept before mine eyes
This truth sublime, that o'er all life doth float
Appearance and deception if we grasp
Life's surface only in our moods of thought.
And o'er and o'er again it spake to me:
Thou must take knowledge how illusion's veil
Weaves all around thee; and however oft
It may appear to thee as truth, beware;
For evil fruitage may in truth arise
If thou shouldst try within another's soul
To wake the light that lives within thyself.
Yet in the best part of my soul I know
That even this oppressive weight of care
Which hath o'erwhelmed thy soul, dear friend of mine,
As thou didst tread with me the path of life,
Is part and parcel of the thorny way,
That leads unto the light of Truth itself.
Thou must live through each horror and alarm
That can spring forth from vain imagining
Before the Truth in essence stands revealed.
Thus speaks thy star; and by that same star's speech
It doth appear to me that we shall walk
One day united, on the spirit-paths.
And yet whene'er I seek to tread these paths
Black night doth spread a curtain round my sight.
And many things I am compelled to see,
Springing as fruitage from my character,
Intensify the darkness of that night.
We two must seek clear vision in that light,
Which, though it vanish for a while from sight,
Can never be extinguished in the soul.

But then, Maria, dost thou realize
Through what my soul hath fought its way but now?
A grievous destiny is thine, dear friend,
Full well I know. And yet how far remote
From thy pure nature is the avenging force,
That hath so wholly shattered mine own soul.
Thou canst ascend the clearest heights of truth,
And scan with steadfast gaze life's tangled path;
And whether in the darkness or the light
Thou wilt retain thine own identity.
But me each moment may deprive of Self.
Deep down I had to dive within the hearts
Of those who late revealed themselves in speech.
I followed one to cloistered solitude,—
And in another's soul I listened to
Felicia's fairy lore. I was each one;
Only unto myself I seemed as dead;
For I must fain believe that primal life
Did spring from very Nothingness itself,
If it were right to entertain the hope,
That out of that dread nothingness in me
A human being ever could arise.
For I am driven from fear into the dark
And from the darkness back again to fear
By wisdom stored within these living words:
‘Know thou thyself, O man. Know thou thyself.’

(From the springs and rocks the words resound:)
Know thou thyself, O man.