The Karma of Vocation
5 November 1916, Dornach
Our real purpose in this lecture, as you already know from what has been said, is to lead the way to an understanding of the karma of the individual and, in a broader sense, the collective karma of our time. But even when we consider human life as it concerns single individuals, it is extraordinarily complicated, and we must follow many threads that link a man to the past and present worlds if we wish to answer questions regarding his destiny. This fact will, perhaps, explain to you the detour I am taking, although I really wish to discuss something that is close to every person. Goethe's life was important in world history, and I will associate reflections with it that are intended to light up each individual existence. His life, to be sure, is accessible to us in many details. Even though the destiny of each human life is far removed from the destined course of such an exemplary spirit in world history, it is possible for each of us to gain viewpoints from the contemplation of it. Therefore, let us not be annoyed if the connections with our special questions, which we shall gradually approach, are here somewhat expanded.
When people trace Goethe's life in the way many do who pretend to be his biographers, they fail altogether to observe how rash men are in their tendency to link cause and effect.
Scientists are constantly reminded nowadays that many blunders are due to the adoption of the principle, “After a thing, therefore because of that thing” (post hoc, ergo propter hoc); that is, because one thing follows another, it must, therefore, be an effect proceeding from its cause. This is refuted in the scientific sphere, but in the field of the observation of human life we have not yet come to reject this principle altogether. Certain uncivilized people belonging to the Kamchadales believe that the water wagtails or similar birds bring on springtime because spring follows their arrival. Such conclusions are frequently drawn when people say: A thing that follows another in time must derive from it as the effect from its cause. We learn from Goethe's own narrative, from the description of this life shining above ordinary humanity, that he had this father and that mother and that he experienced certain things in his youth. We then derive what he did later in life, which made him so important for humanity, from these youthful impressions according to the principle that, because one thing follows something else in time, it must proceed from it. That is no more intelligent than when the coming of spring is supposed to be brought on by the water wagtails.
In the scientific sphere, this superstition has been sharply reproved; in the sphere of spiritual science there is still need to do so. It is explained quite nicely, for instance, that at a rather youthful period while Goethe was still a boy and French officers were quartered in his father's house during the occupation of Frankfurt, he saw how the famous Lieutenant du roi Thoranc 38 Francois de Théas, Comte de Thoranc (1719–94). directed theatrical productions and employed painters there. Goethe thus came into contact with painting and the art of the theater while scarcely more than a child. His later inclination to art is thus glibly traced to these youthful impressions. To be sure, in his case we see his foreordained karma clearly at work from his earliest youth. Is not an especially prominent trait in Goethe's life the way in which he unites his views of art, the world, and nature and has always behind his artistic fantasy the aspiration to know the truth in natural phenomena? Do we not see that a clearly prescribed karma leads the boy of six or seven to assemble minerals and geological material that he finds in his father's collections and place them on a music stand to make of them an altar to the great God of Nature? He then sets a candle on this altar made of natural objects and instead of producing a light in an ordinary, mechanical way, he lets the earliest rays of the morning sun pass through a magnifying glass to light the candle, kindling a flame to offer to the great God of Nature. How impressive and beautiful is this orientation of the mind to what lives and weaves as spirit in the phenomena of nature even in this boy of six or seven! Most certainly, this trait must have come from an original potentiality, if we choose to call it that, and not from the environment, and we see how what he brought into this incarnation worked with special force.
When we consider the time into which Goethe was born, we shall observe a remarkable harmony between his nature and contemporary events. In accordance with the present world conception, people are often inclined to say that what Goethe created — the Faust and other things that he did for the elevation and spiritual permeation of humanity — have come into existence simply because he produced them according to his talents. It is more difficult with the things he has given to humanity to prove that they cannot be bound up in this simple sense with his person. But, in reference to certain phenomena of existence, just consider how shortsighted many kinds of reflections are even though they are supposed to be fundamentally concerned with the truth. In my most recent book, The Riddle of Man, 39 Vom Menschenrätsel, Bibl.-No. 20, CE (Dornach, 1957), p. 155. you can find de la Mettrie's statement that Erasmus of Rotterdam and Fontenelle would have become entirely different human beings if only small particles in their brains had been different. According to this view, we must assume that nothing of all that they produced would exist if, as de la Mettrie 40 Julien Offroy de la Mettrie (1709–51) was a French physician and materialist philosopher who wrote L'homme machine (1748) and who was a friend of Frederick the Great of Prussia. suggests, they had been fools instead of wise men because of a slightly different constitution of the brain.
Now, this does apply in a certain sense for the things Erasmus and Fontenelle produced, but consider this question in relation to another case. Can you imagine, for instance, the development of modern humanity without the discovery of America? Think of all that has entered into the life of modern humanity through the discovery of America. Could a materialistic person assert that if Columbus's brain had been a little different he would have been a different sort of man, a fool, who then would not have discovered America? Certainly, this could be asserted, just as it can be said that Goethe would not have been Goethe, nor Fontenelle have been Fontenelle, nor Erasmus have been Erasmus if, for example, their mothers had suffered accidents so that their children would have been stillborn. But we can by no means suppose that America would never have been discovered if it had not been discovered by Columbus. You will find it rather self-evident that America would have been discovered even if Columbus had suffered from a brain defect.
So you will certainly have no doubt that the course of world events is one thing and the participation of an individual in these events another. You will have no doubt that these events summon those individualities who are especially fitted through their karma for whatever is demanded of them. With reference to America we can easily think through to this conclusion. But, for those whose vision penetrates more deeply, the same truth applies to the genesis of Faust. We should have to assume utter nonsense in the evolution of the world if we had to suppose that there would have been no necessity for the creation of such a poetical composition as the Faust even if what the materialists like to emphasize so much had actually occurred and a tile had fallen on Goethe's head when he was five, making him an imbecile. Anyone who traces the course of spiritual life through the decades preceding the time of Goethe will see that the Faust was really a demand of the age. Lessing, indeed, is the typical spirit who wished to create a Faust — in fact, actually wrote a fine scene. It was not merely Goethe's subjective needs that demanded the Faust, it was demanded by the age. With respect to the course of events in world history, the truth is that a relationship similar to that between Columbus and the discovery of America exists also between Goethe's creations and Goethe himself.
I have said that, if we observe the age into which Goethe was born, we note at once a certain harmony between the individuality of Goethe and his age when taken in the broadest sense of the term. Bear in mind that, in spite of all the dissimilarities between Goethe and Schiller, there is, nevertheless, something quite similar in them — not to mention other less important contemporaries. Consider, for example, how much is resplendent in both Goethe and Herder. But we can go much further. When we look at Goethe, it does not, perhaps, appear at once — we shall come back to this later — but, when we look at Schiller, at Herder and Lessing, we shall say that their lives were different, of course, but that in their tendencies and impulses a portion of the soul's potentialities is present that, under other circumstances, might just as well have made a Mirabeau 41 Honore-Gabriel Comte de Mirabeau (1749–91) was a Jacobin revolutionary leader and a celebrated orator. or Danton 42 Georges Jaques Danton (1759–94) was one of the leading figures of the French Revolution. of them. They truly harmonize with their age. In the case of Schiller, this would by no means be so hard to prove; as the poet who composed The Robbers, Fiesko, Intrigue and Love, he will not seem to anyone to be far removed in disposition from a Mirabeau or Danton or even a Robespierre. 43 Maximilien de Robespierre (1758–94) was the French revolutionary whose name is usually associated with the infamous Reign of Terror. This same soul's blood flowed likewise in Goethe, even though we might at first consider him far from being a revolutionist. But by no means is he so remote from this. There comes about in Goethe's complex nature a special complication of karmic impulses, of destiny, that places him in the world in a most unusual way, even in earliest youth.
When we trace the life of Goethe with spiritual scientific vision and disregard all other things, we find that it falls into certain periods. The first proceeds in such a way that we can say that an impulse which we have already observed in his childhood continues to progress. Then something comes from without that changes the direction of his life; that is, his becoming acquainted with the Duke of Weimar in 1775. Then, again, we see how his soujourn in Rome 44 Goethe left Karlsbad on September 3, 1786, arrived in Rome on October 29, 1786, left Rome on April 23, 1788 and arrived back in Weimar on June 18, 1788. changes the course of his life, how he becomes an utterly different person through having been able to absorb this Roman life. If we should wish to view the matter more accurately, we might say that a third impulse, which comes as if from without — but this, as we shall see, would not be entirely accurate in a spiritual 45 The friendship between the two men lasted from the summer of 1794 to the death of Schiller on May 9, 1805. after he had experienced his Roman transformation.
If we study the first part of Goethe's life up to the year 1775, observing the events more intently than we usually do, we shall discover that there lives in him a powerful revolutionary mood, a rebellion against what was in his environment. His nature, however, is spread over many things. For this reason, because the impulse toward rebellion does not appear so strongly as when concentrated in Schiller's The Robbers but is more diffuse, it does not appear so strikingly. Anyone, however, who is able to enter in a spiritual scientific way into Goethe's boyhood and youth finds in him a spiritual force of life, brought with him through birth, that could not have been present throughout his life if certain events had not occurred. What was living within him as the Goethe individuality was far greater than what could be taken up and expressed in life by his organism.
This is obvious in Schiller. His early death was due primarily to the fact that his organism was consumed by his mighty, spiritual vitality. 46 Cf. Rudolf Steiner's remarks in “Der pädagogische Wert der Menschenerkenntnis und der Kulturwert der Pädogogik“ [The Pedagogical Value of the Knowledge of Human Beings and the Cultural Value of Pedagogy], Second Lecture of July 18, 1924, Bibl.- No. 310, CE (Dornach, 1965). This is obvious. Indeed, it is known that after his death his heart was found to be dried up, as it were. He sustained himself as long as possible only by his powerful spiritual vitality, but this also devoured his bodily life.
With Goethe, this force of soul became even stronger, and yet he lived to an advanced age. What enabled him to live so long? You will recall that I reminded you yesterday of a fact that intervened significantly in Goethe's life. After he had spent some years in Leipzig as a student, 47 Goethe arrived in Leipzig on October 3, 1765 and left the city on August 28, 1768. His illness began the end of July, 1768. he became seriously ill and stood face to face with death. He virtually looked death in the face. This illness is, to be sure, a natural phenomenon in the organism. However, we never learn to understand a man who creates out of the elemental forces of the world — indeed, we never learn really to understand any man — unless we take into consideration such events in the course of his karma. What really happened to Goethe when he became ill in Leipzig? We may describe it as a complete loosening of the etheric body in which the life forces of the soul had been active until then. It was loosened to such an extent that, after this illness, he no longer had that closely knit connection between the etheric and the physical bodies that he had formerly possessed.
The etheric body, however, is the super-sensible member in us that really makes it possible to form concepts, to think. Abstract concepts such as we have in ordinary life, the only concepts that are approved by most persons who are materialistically disposed, come about through the fact that the etheric body is, as it were, closely united with the physical by a strong magnetic union. It is also through this fact that we possess a strong impulse to project our will into the physical world, that is, provided the astral body is strongly developed. In the case of Robespierre, Mirabeau and Danton, we have an etheric body strongly united with the physical but also a powerfully developed astral body. This works, in turn, upon the etheric body, which establishes these human individualities strongly in the physical world.
Goethe was also organized like this, but another force now worked in him and brought about a complication. The result was that the etheric body was loosened and remained so through the illness that had brought him to the point of death. When the etheric body is no longer so intimately united with the physical body, however, it no longer thrusts its forces into the physical but retains them. This explains the transformation Goethe passed through when he returned to Frankfurt. There, during his acquaintance with Fräulein von Klettenberg, 48 Susanna von Klettenberg (1723–74), a well known Pietist, became Goethe's prototype of “die schöne Seele,“ [the beautiful soul] in his novel Wilhelm Meister. the mystic, and with various medical friends who were devoted to studies in alchemy, and through the writings of Swedenborg, he really developed a systematic spiritual world conception. It was still somewhat chaotic, but nevertheless a systematic spiritual world conception, and he was profoundly inclined to occupy himself with super-sensible things.
These things are, however, connected with Goethe's illness. The soul that had brought this predisposition for this illness into his earthly life also brought the impulse so to prepare his etheric body through his illness that it should not be expressed merely in the physical. It maintained the urge and the capacity to become permeated with super-sensible concepts. So long as we merely consider the external biographical facts of a person in a materialistic way, we never discover what subtle interrelationships exist in his stream of destiny. But, as soon as we obtain an insight into the harmony between the natural occurrences affecting his organism, such as the illness of Goethe, and what manifests itself ethically, morally, spiritually, it becomes possible for us to sense the profound effect of karma.
The revolutionary force would certainly have been manifest in Goethe in a way that would have consumed him at an early age. Since an external expression of the life of these revolutionary forces would certainly not have been possible in his environment, and since he could not have written dramas as Schiller did, this force would necessarily have consumed him. It was turned aside through the loosening of the connection of the magnetic union between his etheric and physical bodies.
Here we see how a natural event seems to enter with immense significance into the life of a human being. Undoubtedly, it points to a deeper interrelationship than the one the biographers generally wish to reveal. The significance of an illness to a man cannot be explained on the basis of hereditary tendencies but rather points to the connection between a man and the world in such a way that this relationship must be conceived spiritually. You will note also how Goethe's life was thus complicated; such experiences determine how we take things in and what we are ourselves.
Goethe now comes to Strassburg 49 Goethe left for Strassburg on April 1, 1770, and returned from that city to Frankfurt on August 14, 1771. with an etheric body that is in a sense filled with occult knowledge, and in this condition he meets Herder, whose vast conceptions had to become something quite different in Goethe because the same conditions did not exist in Herder's more subtle constitution. This event of near death appeared in Goethe at the end of the sixties in Leipzig, but its force had been prepared long before that. Anyone who undertakes to trace such an illness to external or merely physical events has not yet attained the same standpoint in the spiritual sphere as that occupied by the natural scientist who knows that what follows must not be viewed necessarily as the result of what it follows. This tendency to isolate himself from the world to some degree was a manifestation of the connection between physical and etheric bodies. It was always present in Goethe, and it really only became a crisis through his illness.
In anyone possessing a compact connection between the physical and etheric bodies, the external world exerts its influence and, as it makes impressions on the physical body, they pass over immediately into the etheric body; this is one and the same thing. Such a person simply lives in direct contact with the impressions of the external world. In Goethe's case, the impressions are, of course, made upon the physical body, but the etheric body does not immediately respond because it is loosened. As a result, such a person can be more isolated, in a sense, from his environment, and a more complicated process takes place when an impression is made on his physical body. If you establish a connection between this organic structure of Goethe and the fact that, as we learn from his biography, he lays himself open even to historic events without forcing them, you have then arrived at an understanding of the peculiar functioning of his nature. I told you that he took the autobiography of Gottfried of Berlichingen and, influenced only by the dramatic impulses received from Shakespeare, did not really alter much in it. So he did not call it a drama but The History of the Iron-handed Gottfried of Berlichingen, Dramatized. You see, this soft and almost timid handling of things, as I might call it, without taking hold of them forcefully is due to his quite unusual connection between the etheric and physical bodies.
This relationship between the etheric and physical bodies was not present in Schiller. For this reason, he creates characters that he has certainly not derived from external impressions but has formed forcefully out of his own nature; Karl Moor is an example. Goethe, however, needs the influence of life, but he does not force it; he only helps with a light touch to elevate the living into a work of art.
It was the same when he was confronted with the experiences that he later reduced to artistic form in Werther. His own life situations as well as those of his friend Jerusalem 50 Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem (1747–72) was secretary of the Brunswick Legation in the city of Wetzlar. He committed suicide on October 30, 1772, with a pistol borrowed from J. C. Kestner, who was also a friend of Goethe. The tragedy is generally believed to have prompted Goethe to write his Werther, as if he wanted to vindicate his friend's action. Werther, too, borrowed a pistol from a friend to kill himself. are not twisted; he does not alter the form greatly but takes life and retouches it a little. Through the delicate manner in which he renders assistance by means of his etheric body, life is transformed into a work of art. But because of this organization he gains, I might say, only an indirect contact with life, and thereby he prepares his karma in this incarnation.
Goethe goes to Strassburg. In addition to the experience that advanced him on his way, he experienced also, as you know, the romantic involvement with Friederike, the daughter of the pastor in Sesenheim. 51 Cf. footnote 18. His affections were deeply involved in this relationship, and many moral doubts may be raised against the course of it — doubts that may also be fully justified. We are not now concerned with that aspect of the matter, but rather with an understanding of it. Goethe really passed through everything that, in another, not only must, but obviously would, have led to a permanent life union. But he does not experience directly. Through what I have explained, a sort of chasm had been created between his unusual inner nature and the external world. Just as he does not alter by force what is living in the external world but only delicately modifies its form, he also does not carry his feelings and sensations, which he can experience only in his etheric body, through the physical body to such a firm contact with the external world — something that, in others, would have led to quite definite events in life. So he withdraws from Friederike Brion, but one must accept this from the viewpoint of the soul.
The last time he went to Sesenheim, he met himself; you can read of this in his autobiography. 52 Poetry and Truth, XI: “I perceived, not with the eyes of the body but of the mind, how I approached myself on horseback, yet wearing clothes -- pike-grey with a little gold -- that I had never worn before. As soon as I shook myself loose from this dream, the apparition had disappeared. The strange thing is that after eight years from this incident when I was travelling on the same road to pay a visit to Friederike, I was wearing the very same clothes I had dreamt about -- not by choice but by coincident.“ The later visit to Friederike Brion took place on September 25, 1779, during Goethe's second journey to Switzerland. Goethe meets Goethe! Long afterward he related how he then encountered himself, Goethe meeting Goethe. He sees himself; he drives out to Sesenheim and Goethe comes to meet him, not in the same clothing he was wearing, however, but in another outfit. When he went there again many years later to visit his old acquaintances, he realized that he was unintentionally actually wearing the clothes in which he had seen himself many years before. We must believe this even took place in the same way we believe anything else he relates. Considering the love of truth with which he described his life to us, to find fault with it is not appropriate.
How does it happen, then, that Goethe, so remote that he could actually withdraw, and yet in such loose contact with the circumstances that for anyone else it would have led to something quite different — how does it come about that he meets himself? Now a man who has an experience in his etheric body finds that it easily takes objective form when the etheric body is loosened. He sees the experience as something external; it is projected outside him. This actually happened to Goethe. In a moment peculiarly appropriate, he saw the other Goethe, the etheric Goethe who lived in him, who remained united in karma with Friederike of Sesenheim, and he met himself as a ghost. But this is just the kind of event that so profoundly confirms what is to be perceived from the facts regarding his nature.
We see here how a man may stand within external events and how it is also necessary to grasp the special, individual way in which he stands among them. It is a complicated relationship that exists between the human being and the world; it is complicated also by the interrelationship between what he brings from the past into the present. Through the fact, however, that Goethe had wrenched his inner nature out of the corporeal connection, it was possible for him even in his early youth to cherish in his soul the profound truths that so astonish us in his Faust. I say astonish purposely for the simple reason that they really must astonish us. I scarcely know anything more simple-minded than when biographers of Goethe repeat over and over the statement, “Goethe is Faust and Faust is Goethe.” I have often read this in biographies of Goethe. It is, of course, an ordinary bit of nonsense. What we really have in Faust, when we permit it to work on us in the right way, so impresses us that we must sometimes say that we cannot imagine that Goethe had a direct experience of a similar kind or could even know of it. Yet there it is expressed in Faust.
Faust constantly grows beyond Goethe. This can be understood completely by one who knows the surprise experienced by a poet when he has this composition before him. That is, we do not have to suppose that the poet must always be as great as his work, anymore than a father must be as great in forces of soul and genius as his son; the truly poetic creative process is something living; just as one cannot say it is also impossible to assert that one who is spiritually creative never creates above his own level. But through the inner state of isolation that I have described in reference to Goethe, those profound insights in his soul appear that we find in reading his Faust. Such works are not poetic compositions like others. The Faust poem flows from the entire spirit of the fifth post-Atlantean culture period; it grows far beyond Goethe. Much that we experience in connection with the world and its process of becoming sounds forth to us from Faust in a strange manner. Call to mind the passage you have just heard: 53 This lecture was preceded by a presentation of the scene in Faust's study (Earth Spirit, Faust, and Wagner).
To us, my friend, the ages that are passed
A book with seven seals, close fastened, are
And what the spirit of the times men call
Is merely their own spirit after all. ... 54 Ann Swanwick's translation of Faust, Part I, lines 575–579, with Faust speaking to Wagner. Kaufmann's rendering of lines 575–585 is given in footnote 21.
These words by Faust himself are passed over too lightly. One who experiences the statement in its fullest depths is reminded of much that confirms its truth. Consider the knowledge possessed by modern man of the Greeks and the spiritual life of Greece, through Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides! Suppose men steep themselves in this Greek spiritual life — let us say, in Sophocles. Is Sophocles a book with seven seals? That will not easily be admitted! More than eighty dramas were written by Sophocles, 55 Sophocles (496–406 B.C.) wrote 130 plays, seven of which are extant: Ajax, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonos, Antigone, Electra, The Trachiniae, Philoctetes. Recently, fragments of a satyr play, Ichneutae or The Trackers, were also found. who lived to be ninety-one; only seven of these dramas now survive. Do we really know a man if he has written eighty-one or more dramas and only seven of them survive? Is this not truly a book with seven seals? How can anyone assert that he knows the Greek world from what has been handed down to us, when he must simply recognize the fact that seventy-four of Sophocles' dramas, by which the Greeks were fascinated and inspired, are nonexistent? Many of the dramas of Aeschylus no longer exist. Poets lived in Greek times whose names are not even known any longer. Are not the times past truly a book with seven seals? We must admit this when we consider such external facts, and
... 'tis delightful to transport
Oneself into the spirit of the past,
To see in times before us how a wise man thought,
And what a glorious height we have achieved at last.
Wagner types believe they are able to transplant themselves quite easily into the spirit of a wise man; that is, when somebody before them has already done the exercise! It is a pity that we cannot put to the proof what the critics would have to write about Hamlet if it had been written today and were to be performed for them by some large municipal theater, or if a drama of Sophocles should be presented for them at this very moment. Perhaps no impression would be made on these gentlemen even by what Sophocles had to do to convince his relatives of his greatness in his advanced old age of ninety-one. His relatives had had to wait so long for their inheritance that they tried to prove he had become feeble-minded and could no longer manage his property. He had no other way to protect himself than by writing the Oedipus in Colonna, thus proving that he was not yet in his dotage. Whether this would work with present-day critics I do not know, but at that time it did help. Anyone who enters deeply into the tragedy of the ninety-one year old Sophocles, however, will be able to estimate how difficult it is to find the way to a human individuality and how such an individuality is bound up in the most complicated fashion with world events! Many things could be adduced to show under what deep layers we must penetrate in order to understand the world. But how much is alive, even in the earliest parts of Faust, of that wisdom that is necessary for an understanding of the world! This wisdom must be attributed to the peculiar course of Goethe's destiny which reveals to us in a real sense that nature and the work of the spirit are a unity in human development and that an illness not only has an external significance but may also possess spiritual meaning.
Thus we see a decided continuation of the karmic impulses that existed in Goethe. Then in 1775, however, his connection with the Duke of Weimar appeared as if from without. Goethe is called from Frankfurt to Weimar. What does this signify in his life? To further understand the life of a man, we must first understand what such an event means to his life. I know how little inclined the present world is really to arouse those forces of the soul that are necessary to fully sense and feel such a phenomenon — to completely feel what is already alive in the first scenes of Faust. In order to write the Monologue in the Study, Spirit of the Earth that has just been presented, a richness of soul is needed, and it will cause one who beholds it to linger long in an attitude of fervent reverence. One is often pained to the depths of one's soul to realize that the world is really still decidedly dull and cannot feel what is truly great. But, if we feel such a thing completely, we shall then also see where one who is deeply permeated with spiritual science arrives in his feeling. Such a person comes to the point of saying to himself that something lived in Goethe that consumed him; he couldn't go on in such a way.
Two things must be clear if we are to appreciate, in the proper sense and in the right light, these first scenes of Faust. We might imagine that Goethe had written them gradually between his twenty-fifth and fiftieth years, in which case they would not have strained his soul so intensely, nor been such a burden. Certainly! But this is impossible because, after his thirtieth or thirty-fifth year, the youthful force necessary to give such form to these scenes would have been lacking. In accordance with his individuality, he had to write them in those early years, but to continue to live thus was no longer possible. He needed something like a damper, a partial soul-sleep, to reduce the intensity of the fire that burned in his soul as he wrote these first scenes. Then, the Duke of Weimar called him to make him a minister in Weimar. As I have already said, Goethe was a good minister, and while he labored assiduously, he could refresh himself by partially sleeping off what burned in his soul.
There is really a tremendous difference between Goethe's mood up to 1775 and that after 1775, a difference that may be compared with a mighty wakefulness followed by a subdued life. The word “Dumpfheit,” an inner feeling of numbness, comes into his mind when he describes his life in Weimar, where he engages himself so much in events but responds to them more than at an earlier age, when he had rebelled against them. It is peculiar that after this dampening down for ten years there followed a period when events confronted him in a more gentle way. Just as the life of sleep is by no means a direct effect of the preceding daytime life, so also this sleep life of Goethe was not at all the result of what had gone before. The interrelationships are far greater than is generally supposed. I have already frequently pointed out that it is indicative of a superficial view when, to the question — Why does a man sleep? — the answer is given: Because he is tired. This is a lazy truth and one that is itself asleep since it is nonsense. Otherwise, it would not be true that individuals such as non-working persons living on their private incomes who are certainly not tired, fall comfortably asleep after a full meal when they are expected to listen to something that does not particularly interest them. Tired they certainly are not. The fact is not that we sleep because we are tired, but waking and sleeping are a rhythmic life process, and when it is time or necessary for us to sleep, we become weary. We are tired because we ought to sleep; we do not sleep because we are tired. But I will not discuss this further just now.
Just consider in what a tremendous interrelationship the rhythm of sleeping and waking stands. It is a reproduction within the nature of man of day and night in the cosmos. It is natural, of course, that a materialistic science should undertake to explain sleep as resulting from weariness caused by the day's activities, but the reverse is true. The explanation of the rhythm of sleeping and waking must be drawn from the cosmos, from vast interrelationships. They also explain that the period when Faust was fermenting in the soul of Goethe was followed by the ten-year period of dampening in Weimar. Here your attention is called directly to his karma, about which we cannot speak further at present.
The consciousness of the ordinary human generally lets him wake in the morning thinking he is unchanged from what he was when he fell asleep. In reality, such is never the case. We are never the same upon waking as we were when we fell asleep but, as a matter of fact, we are somewhat richer, though unconscious of it. However, just as the trough of a wave has followed after a crest, as it was in Goethe's Weimar years, the awakening that follows is at a higher stage; it must follow at a higher stage because the innermost forces strive toward this. In Goethe also the innermost forces strive to awaken again from the inner state of numbness in Weimar to a fullness of life in an environment that could now really bring him what he lacked. He awakened in Italy. With his special constitution he could not have awakened in Weimar. In this fact, however, we can see the profound relationship between the creative work of a real artist and his special experience.
You see, a writer who is not an artist can produce a drama gradually without difficulty, one page at a time; he can do this perfectly well. The great poet cannot; he needs to be deeply rooted in life. For this reason, Goethe could bring the most profound truths to expression in his Faust in relatively early youth, truths that ranged far above the capacities of his soul, but he had to set forth a rejuvenation of Faust. Just bear in mind that Faust had to come into an entirely different mood in spite of the fact that his nature was so deeply formed. In the end, in spite of all his depth, what he had taken into his soul up to that time had brought him near to suicide. He had to be rejuvenated. A lesser individual can describe perfectly well, and even in pretty verses, how a man is rejuvenated. Goethe could not do this so simply; he first had to experience his own rejuvenation in Rome. It is for this reason that the rejuvenation scene, The Witch's Kitchen, was written in Rome in the Villa Borghese. 57 The scene was written in March, 1788. Goethe would not have ventured to write this scene earlier.
Now, a certain condition of consciousness, even though dulled, is associated with such a rejuvenation as Goethe experienced. In his time there was not as yet a spiritual science, so this state of consciousness could not be heightened but only subdued. Furthermore, special forces are associated with such a rejuvenation as Goethe experienced. In his time there was not as yet a spiritual science, so this state of consciousness could not be heightened but only subdued. Furthermore, special forces are associated with such a rejuvenation that are projected over into the next incarnation. Here experiences are woven together that belong to the present incarnation and also much that projects its influence into the next. When we bear this in mind, we are led to consider an especially profound and significant tendency in Goethe.
You see, if I may be permitted to interject this personal comment, I have occupied myself for a number of decades with Goethe's view of nature — I may say since 1879-80, and intensively since 1885-86. During this time, I have arrived at the view that there is something in the impulse that Goethe gave to the conception of nature, which contemporary scientists and philosophers really do not understand, that can be developed, but it will take centuries to do so. It may well be, therefore, that when Goethe returns in another incarnation it will still be possible for him to work formatively on what he could not perfect in his views of nature in this incarnation. Many things that are implicit in his view of nature have not yet even been surmised. In regard to this, I have expressed myself in my book, Goethes World Conception, and in the introduction to Goethe's Natural Scientific Writings in Kürschner's Nationalliteratur. We may really say, therefore, that Goethe bears within him in his view of nature something that points toward remote horizons. It is, however, intimately related with his rebirth as this was connected with the period of life through which he was passing when he was in Rome.
You may read for yourselves how I have presented these matters, how the metamorphosis of plants and animals, the archetypal plant and animal, took form during his journey in Italy; how upon his return he tackled the problem of the theory of colors, something that is scarcely understood at all at present; how he took hold of still other things. You will then see that his living penetration into a comprehensive view of nature is intimately bound up with his rebirth. To be sure, he did relate to Faust what he had arrived at in the course of his own life, not, however, as a minor, but as a major poet would do this. Faust experiences the Gretchen tragedy. In the midst of it, we are suddenly faced with Faust's view of nature, which admittedly is closely related with Goethe's. It is expressed in the following words of Faust:
Exalted spirit, all you gave me, all
That I have asked. And it was not in vain
That amid flames you turned your face toward me.
You gave me royal nature as my own dominion,
Strength to experience her, enjoy her. Not
The cold amazement of a visit only
You granted me, but let me penetrate
Into her heart as into a close friend's.
You lead the hosts of all that is alive
Before my eyes, teach me to know my brothers
In quiet bushes and in air and water.
And when the storm roars in the wood and creaks,
The giant fir tree, falling, hits and smashes
The neighbor branches and the neighbor trunks,
And from its hollow thud the mountain thunders,
Then you lead me to this safe cave and show
Me to myself, and all the most profound
And secret wonders of my breast are opened. 58 Faust, Part I, “Wood and Cave,“ lines 3217–3234. The translation is by Walter Kaufmann.
A great world conception, ascribed by Goethe to Faust! Only during the journey to Italy had Goethe acquired it with such penetration of soul. The scene beginning, “Spirit sublime, thou gavest me, gavest me all,” was also written in Rome, not earlier. These two scenes — the rejuvenation scene in The Witch's Kitchen, and the scene, Forest and Cave, were the portions that were written in Rome.
Here you see a real rhythm in Goethe's life that reveals an inner impulse just as the rhythm of waking and sleeping reveals an inner impulse in the human being. In a life such as Goethe's we can study certain laws in an especially clear light, but we shall also learn that the laws we discover in great personalities may become important for the life of every individual human being. In the last analysis, the laws working in an eminent human being apply to all individuals. Tomorrow we will continue to speak of the relationships of life as they may be grasped from this point of view.