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Poetry and the Art of Speech
GA 281

Lecture VII

29 March 1923, Stuttgart

I hope you will permit me to insert into today’s proceedings at this Pedagogical and Artistic Congress an example taken from the art of recitation and declamation, and to make some observations of an interpolated nature.

Art is always a particularly difficult theme on which to speak, in that art is conveyed through immediate sensation – through immediate perception. It must be received as a direct impression. We are thus in a quite special position in speaking about art at a Congress where our aim is a clarification that is reached both through knowledge and through a whole style of education and teaching-practice. Certainly all the lectures that have been held here have stressed the necessity, in the case of Waldorf education, of introducing an artistic quality into the art of education and teaching in general. But when confronting art itself, one would prefer, as I hinted in a former lecture, to preserve a chaste silence. Now every argument, every show of feeling, every human volition ultimately passes over to form the ongoing stream of human civilisation. They are contained in the three greatest impulses behind all human evolution and all historical events: the ideals of religion, art and knowledge. And in our day an attempt is quite justifiably made to make art the bearer of our ideal of knowledge, so that some possibility may once more be found of our rising upward with our understanding from the realm of substance, of matter, into the spiritual. I have tried to show how art is the way to gain a true knowledge of man, in that artistic creativity and sensitivity are the organs for a genuine knowledge of man. Nature herself becomes a true artist the moment she ascends from the multiplicity of facts and beings of the universe to bring about man. This is not said merely as a metaphor, but as a deeper knowledge of the universe and of man. And again, confronted with art, it may be said that it is an intrusion when we want to speak artistically about art. To speak about art is to lead what is spoken back to a sort of religious perception. Thereby religion is grasped in its widest sense, in which it does not only embrace what we today rightly regard as explicitly religious – the quality of reverence in man – but also includes humour, as understood in the highest sense. [Note 29] A sort of religious feeling must always prepare the mood for art. For when we speak about art we must speak out of the spirit. How can we find words for works of art of the sublimest kind, such as Dante's Commedia, if our language does not embody moments of religious insight?

This was indeed felt, and rightly felt, when art came into being. Art originated at a time when science still formed a unity, a common whole along with religion and art. At the beginning of certain great works of art we hear words which, I would say, seem like a confirmation of these comments from world-history. It is truly out of a cosmic awareness that Homer begins his poem with the words:

Sing, O Muse, of the anger of Peleus’ son Achilles.

Homer himself does not sing: Homer is conscious that he must raise his soul to the superhuman, the super-sensible; that he must place his words as a sacrificial gift before the higher powers he serves, if he is to become a truly artistic poet. (Of course, the question of Homer’s identity has nothing to do with this.) And if we survey a longer period, and come to one of the modern poets, we hear how Klopstock begins his Messiah with words that are indeed different, but formally sound quite similar:

Sing, immortal soul, of sinful man’s redemption,

Which the Messiah on earth in human form accomplished.

When we begin from the one poem and progress to the other, we pass through the period in which man traversed the great, immeasurable distance from complete surrender to the divine spiritual powers, whose earthly sheath he felt himself to be, to the point where man in his freedom started to feel himself a sheath only of his own soul. But there too, at the beginning of the great epoch of German poetry, Klopstock appealed to the invisible – as Goethe constantly did, even if he did not overtly say so. Thus among poets themselves we can observe the consciousness of a sort of translation into the super-sensible.

The super-sensible, however, does not speak in words. Words are in every instance prose. Words are in every instance components of a discourse, components of a psychic act which submits to the conditions of logic. Logic exists in order that we may become aware of external beings and occurrences in their external sense-reality; logic must not, therefore, intrude upon spiritual reality. The moment we arrive by means of logic at a prose sentence we must feel the solid earth under our feet. For the spiritual does not speak in human words. The spiritual world goes only as far as the syllable, not as far as the word. Thus we can say that the poet is in a curious position. The poet has to make use of words, since these are after all the instruments of human speech: but in making use of words he necessarily deserts his proper artistic domain. He can only achieve his aim if he leads the word back to syllable-formation. In the quantities, metres and weight of syllable-formation – this is the region where the word has not yet become word, but still submits to the musical, imaginative and plastic, to a speech-transcendent spirituality – there the poet holds sway. And when the poet has to make use of words, he feels inwardly how he has to lead word-formations back to the region that he left under the necessity of passing from syllable to word. He feels that through rhyme, through the entire configuration of the verse, he must again make good what is lost when the word abandons the concrete quantities and weight that belong to the syllable, and round it out artistically, imparting form and harmony.

Here we are vouchsafed a glimpse into the intimacies of the poet’s soul. This disposition is truly felt by a real poet. Platen is not alone in having left us some remarkable comments on what I have just attempted to describe:

Only to rambling dilettantes

Are formal strictures ‘senseless’. Necessity:

That is thy sacrificial gift, O Genius.

Platen invokes Genius, observing that it is inherent in Genius to fashion the syllables in accordance with quantity, metre and weight. Rambling off into prose is merely the foolishness of the half-talented. (Although, as I have mentioned, these make up ninety-nine per cent of our versifiers.) And not only Platen, but Schiller, too, puts it rather beautifully when he says:

It is the peculiar property of an untainted and purely quantitative verse that it serves as the sensible presentation of an inner necessity of thought; and conversely, any licence in the treatment of syllable quantities makes itself felt in a certain arbitrariness. From this perspective it is of particular importance, and touches upon the most intimate laws of art.

It is to the necessity inherent in syllable-quantities that Schiller refers in this pronouncement.

The declaimer or reciter, as the interpreter of the poet’s art, must give special attention to what I have just described. He has to conduct what comes before him as a poetical composition, which obviously communicates through words, back to quantity, metre and the weight of the syllables. What then flows out into the words has to be consciously rounded out so as to accord with the verse-structure and rhyme. In our own age, with its lack of artistic feeling, there has arisen a curious kind of declamatory-recitative art – a prosaic emphasis on the prose-sense, something quite unartistic. The real poet always goes back from the prosaic or literal to the musical or plastic. Before he committed the words of a poem to paper, Schiller always experienced a wordless, indeterminate melody, a soul-experience of melody. As yet without words, it flowed along melodically like a musical theme, onto which he then threaded the words. One might conjecture that Schiller could have conjured the most varied poems, as regards verbal content, out of the same musical theme. And to rehearse his iambic verse-dramas, Goethe stood in front of his actors with a baton, like a conductor, considering the formation of sound, the balance of the syllables, the musical rhythm and time-signature to be the essential, rather than the literal meaning. For this reason it has become necessary for our own spiritual stream to return to a true art of recitation and declamation, where what has been debased through the means of expression imposed upon the poet to the level of mere prose can once again be raised, so as to regain the level of a super-sensible formative and musical experience.

This work was taken in hand by Frau Dr. Steiner, who over the last decades has tried to develop an art of recitation and declamation in which something that transcends prose to become inwardly eurythmic, the imaginative and musical configuration of syllable-quantities, the imaginative quality of the sound, whether plastic or musical – in which all this is once more made apparent. This comes out differently in lyric, epic and drama – I shall deal with that presently. But we would first like to show how what is indicated here can in general be derived from poetry that is truly artistic.

As a first example you will hear “Ostern”, by Anastasius Grün, a poem particularly suited to such a passing-beyond-the-content and approach to the aesthetic form. It is a somewhat old-fashioned poem that is (in a rather narrow sense) topical, in being a poem dedicated to Easter. On the other hand it is not topical, in the sense that it dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century, an age when the poet still felt bound to acknowledge the necessity of plastic and rhythmical formative power. Let us accept the poem as it is – though it will nowadays be found tedious by those who attend to the prose content alone, as being rather antiquated in its imagery. Even allowing for its tediousness as prose, however, a genuine poet has here attempted to comply with the inner aesthetic necessity of the poem.

We shall then continue with a modern poet, with “An Eine Rose”, a sonnet by Albert Steffen. It is precisely in the sonnet that, with good will, we can discern how the verbal presentation is compensated by the strictly bounded form – this atones for the sin committed with regard to the words, and the whole is then rounded out and rendered euphonious. In the case of a poet like Albert Steffen, whose explorations extend into the hidden depths of his view of the world, it is interesting to observe how he simultaneously feels the necessity of transmuting what comes to light as a way of knowledge into the strictest aesthetic forms.

In the “Terzinen” of Christian Morgenstern we shall see how a peculiar poetic form – free terzetti – subsists on the basis of a feeling for continuity, for openness of form, in contrast to the sonnet which is based on a rounding-off of feeling. We shall see how the terzetti, albeit towards the end of the poem, have a quality of openness, while yet constituting a bounded whole from what flows into the words.

And then perhaps I may adduce three poems of my own: “Frühling”, “Herbst”, and “Weltenseelengeister”, in which I have tried to bring into strict forms the most inward experiences of the human soul – not the forms of conventional prosody or metrics, but forms which stem from the actual emotion, while at the same time they try to contain the amorphous, fluctuating, glittering life within the soul in internally strict forms.

Frau Dr. Steiner will now demonstrate these six, more lyrical poems. (“Ostern” is, of course, a long poem of which we will present only Part V.)


Und Ostern wird es einst, der Herr sieht nieder

Vom Ölberg in das Tal, das klingt und blüht;

Rings Glanz und Fühl’ und Wonn’ und Wonne wieder,

So weit sein Aug’ – ein Gottesauge – sieht!

Ein Ostern, wie’s der Dichtergeist sieht blühen,

Dem’s schon zu schaun, zu pflücken jetzt erlaubt

Die Blütenkränze, die als Kron’ einst glühen

Um der noch ungebornen Tage Haupt!

Ein Ostern, wie’s das Dichteraug’ sieht tagen,

Das überm Nebel, der das Jetzt umzieht,

Die morgenroten Gletscherhäupter ragen

Der werdenden Jahrtausende schon sieht!

Ein Ostern, Auferstehungsfest, das wieder

Des Frühlings Hauch auf Blumengräber sät;

Ein Ostern der Verjüngung, das hernieder

Ins Menschenherz der Gottheit Atem weht!

Sieh, welche Wandlung blüht auf Zions Bahnen!

Längst hält ja Lenz sein Siegeslager hier;

Auf Bergen wehn der Palmen grüne Fahnen,

Im Tale prangt sein Zelt in Blütenzier!

Längst wogt ja über all’ den alten Trümmern

Ein weites Saatenmeer in goldner Flut,

Wie fern im Nord, wo weisse Wellen schimmern,

Versunken tief im Meer Vineta ruht.

Längst über alten Schutt ist unermessen

Geworfen frischer Triften grünes Kleid,

Gleichwie ein stilles, freundliches Vergessen

Sich senkt auf dunkler Tag’ uraltes Leid.

Längst stehn die Höhn umfahn von Rebgewinden,

Längst blüht ein Rosenhag auf Golgatha.

Will jetzt ein Mund den Preis der Rose künden,

Nennt er gepaart Schiras und Golgatha.

Längst alles Land weitum ein sonn’ger Garten;

Es ragt kein Halbmond mehr, kein Kreuz mehr da!

Was sollten auch des blut’gen Kampfs Standarten?

Längst ist es Frieden, ew’ger Frieden ja!

Der Kedron blieb. Er quillt vor meinen Blicken

Ins Bett von gelben Ähren eingeengt,

Wohl noch als Träne, doch die dem Entzücken

Sich durch die blonden, goldnen Wimpern drängt!

Das ist ein Blühen rings, ein Duften, Klingen,

Das um die Wette spriesst und rauscht und keimt,

Als gält’ es jetzt, geschäftig einzubringen,

Was starr im Schlaf Jahrtausende versäumt,

Das ist ein Glänzen rings, ein Funkeln, Schimmern

Der Städt’ im Tal, der Häuser auf den Höhn;

Kein Ahnen, dass ihr Fundament auf Trümmern,

Kein leiser Traum des Grabs, auf dem sie stehn!

Die Flur durchjauchzt, des Segens freud’ger Deuter,

Ein Volk, vom Glück geküsst, an Tugend reich,

Gleich den Gestirnen ernst zugleich und heiter,

Wie Rosen schön, wie Cedern stark zugleich

Begraben längst in des Vergessens Meere,

Seeungetümen gleich in tiefer Flut,

Die alten Greu’l, die blut’ge Schergenehre,

Der Krieg und Knechtsinn und des Luges Brut.

Auf Golgatha, in eines Gärtchens Mitte,

Da wohnt ein Pärlein, Glück und Lieb’ im Blick;

Weit schaut ins Land, gleich ihrem Aug’ die Hütte,

Es labt ja Glück sich gern an fremdem Glück!

Einst, da begab sich’s, dass im Feld die Kinder

Ausgruben gar ein formlos, eisern Ding;

Als Sichel däuchtis zu grad und schwer die Finder,

Als Pflugschar fast zu schlank und zu gering.

Sie schleppen’s mühsam heim, gleich seltnem Funde,

Die Eltern sehn es, – doch sie kennen’s nicht,

Sie rufen rings die Nachbarn in der Runde,

Die Nachbarn sehn es, – doch sie kennen’s nicht.

Da ist ein Greis, der in der Jetztwelt Tage

Mit weissem Bart und fahlem Angesicht

Hereinragt, selbst wie eine alte Sage;

Sie zeigen’s ihm, – er aber kennt es nicht.

Wohl ihnen allen, dass sie’s nimmer kennen!

Der Ahnen Torheit, längst vom Grab verzehrt,

Müsst’ ihnen noch im Aug’ als Träne brennen.

Denn was sie nimmer kannten, war ein Schwert!

Als Pflugschar soll’s fortan durch Schollen ringen,

Dem Saatkorn nur noch weist’s den Weg zur Gruft;

Des Schwertes neue Heldentaten singen

Der Lerchen Epopeein in sonn’ger Luft!

Einst wieder sich’s begab, dass, als er pflügte,

Der Ackersmann wie an ein Felsstück stiess,

Und, als sein Spaten rings die Hüll’ entfügte,

Ein wundersam Gebild aus Stein sich wies.

Er ruft herbei die Nachbarn in der Runde,

Sie sehn sich’s an, – jedoch sie kennen’s nicht! –

Uralter, weiser Greis, du gibst wohl Kunde?

Der Greis besieht’s, jedoch er kennt es nicht.

Ob sie’s auch kennen nicht, doch steht’s voll

Segen Aufrecht in ihrer Brust, in ewigem Reiz,

Es blüht sein Same rings auf allen Wegen;

Denn was sie nimmer kannten, war ein Kreuz!

Sie sahn den Kampf nicht und sein blutig Zeichen,

Sie sehn den Sieg allein und seinen Kranz!

Sie sahn den Sturm nicht mit den Wetterstreichen,

Sie sehn nur seines Regenbogens Glanz!

Das Kreuz von Stein, sie stellen’s auf im Garten,

Ein rätselhaft, ehrwürdig Altertum,

Dran Rosen rings und Blumen aller

Arten Empor sich ranken, kletternd um und um.

So steht das Kreuz inmitten Glanz und Fülle

Auf Golgatha, glorreich, bedeutungsschwer:

Verdeckt ist’s ganz von seiner Rosen Hülle,

Längst sieht vor Rosen man das Kreuz nicht mehr.

Anastasius Grün.

[In a similar way, Vaughan here transmutes a religious meditation into haunting poetry:


(John, ii.)

Through that pure Virgin-shrine,

That sacred vail drawn o’r thy glorious noon

That men might look and live as Glo-worms shine,

And face the Moon:

Wise Nicodemus saw such light

As made him know his God by night.

Most blest believer he!

Who in that land of darkness and blinde eyes

Thy long expected healing wings could see,

When thou didst rise,

And what can never more be done,

Did at mid-night speak with the Sun:

O who will tell me, where

He found thee at that dead and silent hour:

What hallow’d solitary ground did bear

So rare a flower,

Within whose sacred leafs did lie

The fulness of the Deity.

No mercy-seat of gold,

No dead and dusty Cherub, nor carv’d stone,

But his own living works did my Lord hold

And Lodge alone;

Where trees and Kerbs did watch and peep

And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

Dear night! this worlds defeat;

The stop to busie fools; cares check and curb;

The day of Spirits; my souls calm retreat

Which none disturb!

Christ’s progress, and his prayer time;

The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

Gods silent, searching flight:

When my Lords head is fill’d with dew, and all

His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;

His still, soft call;

His knocking time; The souls dumb watch,

When Spirits their fair kindred catch.

Were all my loud, evil days

Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,

Whose peace but by some Angels wing or voice

Is seldom rent;

Then I in Heaven all the long year

Would keep, and never wander here.

But living where the Sun

Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tyre

Themselves and others, I consent and run

To ev’ry myre,

And by this worlds ill-guiding light,

Erre more than I can do by night.

There is in God (some say)

A deep, but dazzling darkness; As men here

Say it is late and dusky, because they

See not all clear

O for that night! where I in him

Might live invisible and dim.

Henry Vaughan.]



Ich schaue mich in dir und dich in mir:

Wo ich die Schlange bin, bist du die Blume,

wir assen beide von der irdischen Krume,

in dir ass Gott, in mir ass noch das Tier.

Die Erde ward für dich zum Heiligtume,

du wurzelst fest, du willst nicht fort von ihr.

Ich aber sehne mich, ich darbe hier,

ich such im All nach meinem Eigentume.

Du überwächst den Tod mit deinen Farben

und saugst dir ewiges Leben aus dem Boden.

Ich kehre immer wieder, um zu sterben.

Denn ach: Nur durch mein Suchen, Sehnen, Darben,

nur durch die Wiederkehr von vielen Toden,

darf ich um dich, O rote Rose, werben.

Albert Steffen (1884-1963).


I see myself in thee, and thee in me:

But where I am the serpent, thou’rt the flower –

In both consumes and grows by earthly power

A god in thee, alas! mere beast in me.

To thee the Earth was given for thy shrine,

Thou clungst to her, nor wouldst uprooted be.

But I, I yearn, I hanker to be free,

And seek in the great All to grow divine.

Thou with thy shooting hues outleapst corruption,

Drawing eternal life from out of the soil,

Whilst I fall back, fall even to death’s repose.

Yet still I seek and I yearn – and after disruption,

And only through manifold deaths’ laborious toll

Dare court your deathless beauty, rose, red rose!

Trans. A.J.W.


Was ist das? Gibt es Krieg? Den Abendhimmel

verfinstern Raben gleich geschwungnen Brauen

des Unheils und mit gierigem Gekrächz.

Südöstlich rudern sie mit wilder Kraft,

und immer neue Paare, Gruppen, Völker...

Und drüber raucht’s im Blassen wie von Blut.

Wie Sankt Franciscus schweb ich in der Luft

mit beiden Füssen, fühle nicht den Grund

der Erde mehr, weiss nicht mehr, was das ist.

Seid still! Nein, – redet, singt, jedweder Mund!

Sonst wird die Ewigkeit ganz meine Gruft

und nimmt mich auf wie einst den tiefen Christ.

Dies ist das Wunderbarste, dieses feste,

so scheint es, ehern feste Vorwärtsschreiten –

und alles ist zuletzt nur tiefer Traum.

Von tausend Türmen strotzt die Burg der Zeiten

(so scheint’s) aus Erz und Marmor, doch am Saum

Der Ewigkeit ist all das nur noch Geste.

Dämmrig Blaun im Mondenschimmer

Berge...gleich Erinnerungen

ihrer selbst; selbst Berge nimmer.

Träume bloss noch, hinterlassen

von vergangnen Felsenmassen:

So wie Glocken, die verklungen,

noch die Luft als Zittern fassen.

Christian Morgenstern

What is that – is it war? The evening skies

are dark with ravens, like a congested brewing

of evil, and gasping horrible, envious croaks.

Southward and east they steer with reckless force,

shifting in constellations, pairs and groups...

and over all the smoke – so pale, like blood.

I, like St. Francis, rise upon airy wave,

and feel beneath my feet earth’s solid ground

no more, no longer knowing what that is...

Be still! – No, rather let each voice resound!

lest all Eternity, become my grave,

enclose me like the depth that in Christ is.

Most wonderful is this: the fast‑

as-iron (it seems to me) forward advance –

and yet, all is a dream in which we sink.

Time prides herself (apparently) on all

her forts of stone and iron – yet, from the brink

of Endlessness, mere gestures all at last!

Dusky, blue, in moonlight quiver


themselves, as they were mountains never.

Mere dreams! the last, abandoned fragment

of some primeval, vast escarpment:

like stopped bells, whose resonances

in the vibrant air augment.

Trans. A.J.W. after V. Jacobs.

[Stevens has made extensive use of this form, as in his “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”. This example comes from the section “It Must Give Pleasure,” part VIII:

What am I to believe? If the angel in his cloud,

Serenely gazing at the violent abyss,

Plucks on his strings to pluck abysmal glory,

Leaps downward through evening’s revelations, and

On his spredden wings, needs nothing but deep space,

Forgets the gold centre, the golden destiny,

Grows warm in the motionless motion of his flight,

Am I that imagine this angel less-satisfied?

Are the wings his, the lapis-haunted air?

Is it he or is it I that experience this?

Is it I then that keep saying there is an hour

Filled with expressible bliss, in which I have

No need, am happy, forget need’s golden hand,

Am satisfied without solacing majesty,

And if there is an hour there is a day,

There is a month, a year, there is a time

In which majesty is a mirror of the self:

I have not but I am and as I am, I am.

These external regions, what do we fill them with

Except reflections, the escapades of death,

Cinderella fulfilling herself beneath the roof?

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955).]

Lyric poems by Rudolf Steiner.


Der Sonnenstrahl,

Der lichterfunkelnde,

Er schwebt heran.

Die Blütenbraut,

Die farberregende,

Sie grüsst ihn froh.


Der Erdentochter

Erzählt der Strahl,

Wie Sonnenkräfte,

Die geistentsprossenen,

Im Götterheim

Dem Weltentone lauschen;

Die Blütenbraut,

Die farberglitzernde,

Sie höret sinnend

Des Lichtes Feuerton.


Der Erdenleib,

Der Geistersehnende,

Er lebt im Welken.

Die Samengeister,

Die Stoffgedrängten,

Erkraften sich.

Und Wärmefrüchte

Aus Raumesweiten

Durchkraften Erdensein.

Und Erdensinne,

Die Tiefenseher,

Sie schauen Künft’ges

Im Formenschaffen.

Die Raumesgeister,

Die ewig-atmenden,

Sie blicken ruhevoll

Ins Erdenweben.


The Sun’s bright beam –

a gash of light,

he soars above.

His blossom-bride

showered with colour,

greets him with joy.

And trustfully

the beam instructs

the daughter of earth

how solar powers

(the spirit’s progeny!)

in the heavenly spheres

eavesdrop on their harmonies;

the blossom-bride –

sprinkled and bright with colour –

she hears the light’s

cadence of flame!


The world’s body –

its life for spirit yearns

amidst the shrivelling.

The germinal sprites,

crushed with matter,

gather their power.

And fruits of warmth

from far expanses

saturate earthly being.

And worldly senses

(ah, deeply seeing!)

behold the future

in forming power.

The daemons of space –

eternal breathings! – they gaze

reposefully at the world’s

unceasing weft.

Trans. A.J.W.


Im Lichte wir schalten,

Im Schauen wir walten,

Im Sinnen wir weben.

Aus Herzen wir heben

Das Geistesringen

Durch Seelenschwingen.

Dem Menschen wir singen

Das Göttererleben

Im Weltengestalten.


In light is our being,

and human seeing,

sensations weaving;

from deep hearts upheaving

through soul’s wide wending

the spirit’s contending;

our song to men sending

of gods’ true perceiving,

world-forms decreeing.

Trans. A.J.W.