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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

VIII. The Word as Definition, and the Word in Its Context

3 July 1924, Dornach

My Dear Friends,

We must in speech eurhythmy, as we have already done in tone eurhythmy, differentiate between that which tends so carry the word, the tone, down into the physical world, and that which tends to raise it up into the spiritual world. We have until now paid very little attention to this difference. Yesterday, however, at the end of my lecture, I pointed out that when the vowel sound is changed into the diphthong the sense-world does not show itself in such sharply defined outlines, but appears more scattered, more diffused. And this at the same time brings us nearer to the spiritual. I pointed out that we easily see one brother (Bruder); when it is the case of one, we have a sharply defined sense-impression. Whereas several brothers (Brüder) make a collective impression. This gathering together of individuals brings us nearer to the world of imagination, of idea, and it is this ascent into the world of idea which is expressed in the diphthong.

These diphthong sounds do indeed show themselves to be essentially of a more spiritual nature than the actual vowel-sounds of which they are composed. For just as in tone-eurhythmy that which is essentially spiritual in the music does not lie in the actual tones, but between the tones, so also in speech-eurhythmy, that which rays upwards to the spiritual does not lie in the sharply emphasized sound, in the sound which is uttered strongly and upon which we rest, but it lies at that point where one sound passes over into the other—thus between the sounds. For this reason the movements of eurhythmy can never become really interesting as long as the eurhythmist merely concentrates upon the forming of the separate sounds. But eurhythmy can be made deeply interesting when one gradually learns to lead one sound over into the next. Thus we see that the truly spiritual element in eurhythmic movement is brought about by the way in which one sound arises out of the other.

To this something further must be added. Fundamentally speaking every word can be looked at from two aspects. On the one hand we have the aspect of external imitation, on the other hand the placing of that which is thus expressed into the general scheme of things. If to-day people were more disposed to study language from a spiritual point of view, realizing the way in which each language arises from out of its own genius, great stress would be laid upon the interesting fact that in the configuration of a word it is not merely the individual significance of a process or thing that is described but its relationship to a collective whole. All these things must be taken into account.

Thus we must realize that, in declaiming a poem, or merely endeavouring to give a word its true proportion in a sentence, the reciter must instinctively, by means of his artistic feeling, develop this attitude towards the sounds of speech: Such or such is the relationship of a word to its whole content. I shall speak about these things in detail later. Now, however, I am trying to show how, on the one hand, words have the descriptive element, and how, on the other hand, there is the possibility of going beyond the word itself and entering into the poem or sentence as a whole. We can see this best by taking definite examples. Let us first take a very characteristic type of word, the personal pronoun. Such words, in their very nature, place that to which they refer into some quite definite relationship, or—which is indeed much the same thing—they remove it right out of this relationship. We will take as an example the word ‘ich’ (I), and ask someone to express it in eurhythmy, standing still, (Frl. W, . . . will you do this ?) Now, in these movements for i and ch you have expressed the word ‘Ich.’

But to an unprejudiced observer there will be something lacking in these movements. In themselves they are quite correct, and certainly do express the word ‘Ich” in visible language; and yet there is something lacking. One has the feeling that here the ‘Ich’ is simply represented diagrammatically ; it is as if the only impression we had of a man were his portrait. Such a representation of the ‘Ich’ is not sufficiently living, for the spirit of man, which lies behind the manifestation of the ‘Ich’, is not fully expressed. What then is the spiritual essence of the word ‘Ich’? In this word there lies the pointing back to oneself, the concept of the self, but the concept of the self turned inwards towards the self. And if one wishes to express this backward turning into the self, it can he done excellently, not by standing still, but by moving. Let us suppose, therefore, that you take two steps forward end then two steps backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards.

Thus you will retrace your steps, going back over the same line and returning to your starting point. With the two forward steps do the i-sound, and with the two backward steps the ch. In this way movement enters into the expression of the word ‘Ich’, movement which finds its way back again into itself, just as the Ich’ conception contains the feeling of turning back into the self. If you carry out the movements in this way, taking two steps forwards with the i and two steps backwards with the ch, you will enter right into the form (see diagram), and this form is of such a nature that it grows directly out of the meaning inherent in this combination of sounds.

Let us pass over from the ‘Ich’ (I) to the ‘Du’ (Thou). Here we have quite another feeling. The whole relationship is different, indicating a connection with some other being. (Frl. S will you make the movements for ‘Du’, standing still as before d-u?) But in this simple expression of the ‘Du’ there is again a certain feeling of dissatisfaction, for here again we only have the picture of the ‘Du’, not the actual ‘Du’ itself. The movement is not living. The real spirit of the word is lacking. We must seek some means which will help us to find our way to this spirit.

In the case of the word ‘Ich’ it is quite clear that one turns back into oneself. With the word ‘Du’—when one really enters into the nature of the ‘Du’, thus coming into contact with somebody not oneself, the other,—then one goes out of oneself. Here one cannot go back on the same line and touch the starting point again, for this would lead one back into oneself. That is obviously impossible. On the other hand, one cannot go altogether out of oneself, for then one would not be expressing the word ‘Du’, but the word ‘Er’ or ‘Sie’ (He or She). You will easily feel this. Thus with ‘Du’ it is necessary to give some slight indication of one’s own being also. This can only be done when the line of the form turns back, touching itself at some definite point.

This diagram shows the point at which you cross your previous line. When, therefore, instead of simply going forwards and backwards, you only touch the line of the form once on your way back, you have the complete movement for ‘Du’. The d should be made during the first part of the form, and the u on the way back; but the line must only cross itself at the one point. Now you have really brought the ‘Du’ into movement, and have done so in such a way that it has not become an ‘ Er’ or a ‘Sie’. You have retained a certain contact with yourself, even if this contact is but slight. It is, however, possible to strengthen the feeling of oneself. If we wish to do this, if we wish the going out from ourselves to become weaker and weaker, then, while making the u, the form can be carried out in this way:

This ‘Du’ would, however, in no way express a loving feeling. If you try the form for yourself you will notice that the effect is somewhat pinched, much less outgoing in character, Such things as these can, of course, only be realized through the feelings; they are, however, not difficult to feel.

I have already indicated the way in which the ‘Er’ can be shown. The impression of ‘Er’ is given by never allowing the second part of the form to touch the line taken by the first part of the form. Thus we find that the ‘Er’ form is the circle, where we have a line which is never touched again until the starting point is reached. The ‘Er’ must be expressed by a circular form, by a line which never turns back on to itself.

Here we have another possibility.

You do not come back to your starting point, and, were you to do so, the form would already be completed. Thus we have a line which never crosses itself at any point, and which expresses for us the word ‘Er’. (Frl. S . . . will you come and make the movements for ‘Er’ standing still? It is impossible to give the real feeling for ‘Er’ while standing still; one cannot even produce a pictorial impression. All that we have is the egotistical contemplation of the other person or thing. There is no going out of oneself. Now add this form to the movements ; simply make a circle, so that you come back to the point from which you started. Accompany one side of the form with the e and the other side with the r, and you will see how well the feeling of the ‘Er’ is expressed.

Some time ago I gave an exercise built up upon a special combination of sounds. It began with the word ‘Der’ (The), which is indeed similar in character to ‘Er’; and it was built up on the ‘Er’ feeling and carried out in such a way that the form never at any point came back and touched the previous line. (Frl. Sch, . . . will you show us this exercise, ‘Der Wolkendurchleuchter’; try and do it in such a way that you bring into it all that I have said.)

Der Wolkendurchleuchter,
Er durchleuchte,
Er durchsonne,
Er durchglühe,
Er durchwärme
Auch mich.

(He who illuminates the clouds,
May he illuminate,
May he irradiate,
May he inspire
And fill with warmth and light,
Even me.)

Formerly we did this in such a way that the character of ‘Er’, (He), upon which the entire poem is built, was shown in the exercise as a whole. There is, however, another way of doing the exercise. Every time the word ‘Er’, (He), occurs, make a circle; but also carry out the form of a circle in the course of the whole poem. Thus, whenever the word ‘Er’ appears make a circle, go a little further, make another circle, and so on. By this means the whole thing takes on a quite different character, quite another type of movement.

In the old way of doing this exercise we felt that we must devote ourselves more to the mood of the poem as a whole.

In the new way we give ourselves up to the changing moods, to the illuminating, the irradiating, the inspiring with warmth and light.

Passing over from the ‘Ich’ (I) to the ‘Wir’ (We), that is to say from the singular to the plural,—for ‘We’ implies at least two people,—we are no longer dealing with a solo dance, but have come into the realm of the round dance. If there are two people taking part in the form, it can be done in the following way (see diagram). The working together, the losing of the self, is expressed by means of the circle. The ‘Ich’ is expressed by each individual taking a number of steps forward and at the same time saying aloud the word ‘Wir’ or ‘We’, and then going back over the same line,—forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards. In this way the two aspects of the word are shown quite clearly. Thus, if only two people are taking part, they stand opposite to one another, approach each other, draw back again, approach each other, draw back again, and in so doing express the inner feeling of the word ‘Wir’.

If four people take part the circle becomes more complete, and by moving forwards and backwards over the same line the ‘Wir’ is very well expressed. The feeling of belonging together can be strengthened by taking hands, but this will hardly be possible with two people only. Here we have a very beautiful expression of ‘Wir’. Let four eurhythmists stand in a circle, saying the word ‘Wir’ or ‘We’ aloud, in the way I have already explained. Begin by joining hands; now take two steps forward with the w, passing over into the i when you have reached the centre; complete the backward journey with r, and again join hands. Care must be taken not to make the i too soon. In this way we really express the word ‘Wir’. Quite beautiful shades of feeling can be brought into such an exercise. One must, however, always experience the difference between ‘Ich’, ‘Wir’, and so on.

There is still another exercise which can be very beautiful. If four eurhythmists stand as indicated in the diagram, not taking hands this time, but making the movements backwards, what will this express?—‘Ihr’ (You). We have ‘Du’ (Thou) carried over into the plural. There can be no doubt about it; it is quite apparent. In this exercise we show the turning away from ourselves, the feeling of ‘Ihr’.

The word ‘Ihr’ must also be spoken aloud. And from the very beginning the arms must tend in a backward direction. In this way much that is of significance can be brought into the exercise. These things should also be taken into account when studying the structure of a poem, for they are exceedingly characteristic. All that can be felt and experienced in, the single words, particularly in such characteristic words as the personal pronouns, must be sought for and experienced in the structure of language as a whole. Very much more could be said on this subject, but for the moment we will pass on to another exercise.

Let us ask three eurhythmists to place themselves in a triangle, and then carry out this form:

If you wish to give characteristic expression to the word ‘Sie’, you will do so most easily when you all three move the forms in the same direction, all towards the same side. (You must all start from the same point and reach the same point at the end of the form.) Thus Sie, Sie, Sie. Here we have the direct expression for the word ‘Sie’.

Now the question naturally arises : How can I apply these things?—for in the ordinary way it will certainly not be possible to carry out such a form in the case of each separate word. Although of this you may be quite certain something very beautiful would grow out of the dexterity and skill which would be achieved by the diligent practice of all I have indicated for such single words as ‘Du’, ‘Er’, ‘Wir’, ‘Ibr’, ‘Sie’. It would lead to something very beautiful.

In the case of certain poems we have quite definitely the Ich’ (I) character. In other poems, especially in love poems, we have the ‘Du’ (Thou) character. And in the case of quite a number of poems,—here I am reminded particularly of nearly all the poems of Martin Grief,—we have a most pronounced ‘Er’ (He) character. One can enter right into the whole mood of a poem when one is able to perceive in a poem itself the ‘I’, ‘Thou’ or ‘He’ character, and then express the poem by means of a form which has been drawn from out of the very nature of the ‘I’, ‘Thou’, ‘He’, ‘We’, ‘You’ or They’. A specially beautiful effect may be attained when the objective mood, the mood of ‘He’, the mood of going out of oneself, is carried over into what is more subjective in its feeling. Let us take as an example that poem from which we have learned so much already, for from whichever point of view we look at it, it seems as if specially written for the study of eurhythmy. I refer to Goethe’s famous poem so well known to us all;

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh;
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde,
Warte nur, baide
Ruhest du auch.
(O’er all the hill tops
Is quiet now;
In all the tree tops
Hearest thou
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees
Wait, soon like these
Thou too shalt rest.)

Let us analyse this poem quite objectively:

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,

We will give this the ‘He’ character,

In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch.

Here we pass on to the ‘Thou’

Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Now we must ask: Should this be in the ‘I’ or the ‘Thou’ character? For Goethe is here speaking to himself. You could try it both ways. Let us first try it in this way


Über allen Gipfela


Ist Ruh;

Er. (He)

In allen Wipfeln


Spürest du


Kaum einen Hauch;

Du (Thou)

Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde

Er. (He)

Warte nur, balde


Ruhest du auch.

Du. (Thou)


If we do so we shall see how the form arises out of the whole mood of the poem. Personal pronouns, such as ‘Ich’, ‘Du’ and so on, are, when uttered, in reality nothing else than a crystallization, a condensation of a mood or feeling otherwise spread over a whole passage. In this particular poem the first lines are permeated by the ‘He’ mood, the next lines by the ‘Thou’, then comes the ‘He’ once more, then again the Thou’, or, as we shall presently see, the ‘I’, which is the mood of the last lines,

Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Now let us do the whole poem in this second way: He, Thou, He, I

Uber alien Gipfeln
Ist Ruh;
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vogelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Now, by giving the form the ‘I’ character, you have seen how entirely different it becomes. If we try both forms one after the other, we shall certainly decide that the second is the better. This will undoubtedly prove to be the right way. From such a poem you can gain the most wonderful perception of how the form develops right out of the poem itself. You must learn to feel the relationship existing between a certain combination of sounds and the meaning of the word thus formed—a personal pronoun, for example.

Consider for a moment how beautifully some such short poem as the following can be worked out if we study its meaning and make use of all that we now know:

Schlummer und Schlaf, zwei Brüder, zum Dienste der Götter berufen,
Bat sich Prometheus herab, seinem Geschlechte zum Trost.
Aber den Göttern so leicht, doch schwer zu ertragen den Menschen,
Ward nun ihr Schiummer uns Schlaf, ward nun ihr Schiaf uns zum Tod.

Here the words ‘Uns’ (Us) occurs twice; we will, of course, treat it in the same way as ‘Wir’ (We), and make use of the ‘Wir’ form. If we now look more closely into the poem we shall be able to analyse it as follows

Schlummer und Schiaf, zwei Brüder zum Dienste der Götter berufen,
Obviously an ‘Er’ form.
Bat sich Prometheus herab, seinem Geschlechte zum Trost.

Now in the word ‘Bitten’ (to ask) there is necessarily a turning towards some other person, there is an indication of the ‘Du’ ; we feel the underlying character of ‘Du’.

Aber den Göttern so leicht, doch schwer zu ertragen den Menschen.

With these words we pass over to something which leads us into the depths of our own being. Such knowledge can only be attained by entering into the very nature of the thing in question. Here, therefore, an opportunity presents itself of making use of the position I have already shown you, the position for Knowledge,

Ward nun ihr Schiummer uns Schlaf,

The light sleep of the Gods becomes deep sleep for man, and the deep sleep of the Gods becomes death for man,

Ward nun ihr Schlaf uns um Tod.

Here we come into the region of destiny, common to all men by reason of their humanity; we have the ‘Wir’. We shall be able to make a form which really brings life into the poem if we make use, in the first place, of those forms which we have gained from a study of the personal pronouns, add in the second place,—where the whole thing is brought into the realm of the spiritual,—of the movement, the position for Knowledge. We shall get good results if we regard these forms as really fundamental forms, and make use of them quite freely, but with due regard to the sense and correctness of the way in which they are applied.

Frl. S. . . . will you do the first line to an ‘Er’ form, fitting in the whole line to the one form. With the second line make a ‘Du’ form. With the third, or rather in the pause between the second and third lines, and again at the end of the third line, take up the position for Knowledge, finally using the ‘Wir’ form for the last line. You will, however, not be able to make the ‘Wir’ form alone; two other eurhythmists must therefore make their appearance on the stage, one coming from the left wing, the other from the right. By this means the last line will be coloured with the feeling of ‘Wir’, (We) This example shows you how such forms may be worked out. They are developed from out of the poems themselves.

From all that has been said, and from these simple examples, I hope you are beginning to understand the spirit in which the study of eurhythmy has to be undertaken. With eurhythmy one has really to study the poem; it is not enough merely to learn the sounds, but one must enter right into its whole content, into all the nuances of feeling and fine shades of mood contained within it. And no one should attempt to express a poem in eurhythmy who has not first put to himself the question: What is the fundamental character of this poem ?—upon what artistic foundation is it based?

Let us take another example by Goethe

Seid, O Geister des Hains, o seid, ihr Nymphen des Flusses,
Eurer Entfernten gedenk, eueren Nahen zur Lust!
Weihend feierten sie im Stillen die ländlichen Feste;
Wir, dem gebahnten Pfad folgend, beschleichen das Glück.
Amor wohne mit uns; es macht der himmlische Knabe
Gegenwärtige lieb und die Entfarnten euch nah.

Now as a preliminary study we must begin carefully to examine the poem. These things, which I am necessarily treating in a somewhat sketchy way at the moment, must be gone into thoroughly and in detail when one is working out a poem with a view to doing it in eurhythmy.

So we have:

Said, O Geister des Hains, o seid, ihr Nymphen des Flusses.

What is this but the ‘Du’ mood, a form of address. If you are working out the poem with several eurhythmists, as we mean to do now, you will, of course, begin with the ‘Ihr’ form.

Eurer Entfernten gedenk, eueren Nahen zur Lust! Once more ‘Ihr’.
Weihend feierten sie im Stillen die ländlichen Feste; ‘Sie’.
Wir, dem gebahnten Pfad folgend, beschleichen das Glück, ‘Wir’.
Amor wohne mit uns, es macht der himmlische Knabe. Er’,
Gegenwärtige lieb und die Entfernten euch nah. ‘Ihr’,

In the second line we repeat the ‘Ihr’ form, in order to express ‘Euch’ (your). The example consists of six lines.

I will now ask three eurhythmists to group themselves together and express the whole poem in the way I have indicated. Before beginning you must be quite clear about what it is you have to do. You must make the form according to the rules given. In this case, therefore, ‘Ihr’, ‘Ihr’, ‘Sie’, ‘Wit’, ‘Er’, ‘Ihr’,—each form to spread out over a whole line.

There are, of course, other ways of doing it. Two of the eurhythmists can remain standing, and the third do the ‘Er’ form alone; then we should have:

Amor wohne mit uns; es macht der himmlische Knabe—
done as a solo line, after which all three would join together in the ‘Ihr’ form.
Gegenwärtige lieb und die Entfernten euch nah.

In this way we learn to realize the possibility of studying a poem by means of the eurhythmic forms.