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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

A5. Eurythmy and Its Relationship to Other Arts

The fact that eurythmy originated within the Anthroposophical Movement is not in the least arbitrary, even if the actual circumstances of the case seem almost like chance. Eurythmy developed in such a way that it was only in the course of years that its essential character was revealed. The whole process of the development of eurythmy has been such that it could only have emanated from the Anthroposophical Movement, this Movement which is suited to the needs of modern times and which is in keeping with the conditions of the present and near future.

Eurythmy must be looked upon as a quite particular art, an art which is based upon the revelation of the nature and being of man through movements of the limbs carried out by a single human being or a group of human beings, either standing still or moving in space.

I have often called this revelation of the human being ‘visible speech’. It is visible speech in so far as the content of a poem or piece of music may, by its means, be brought to expression through human gesture based on laws not less exact than those which would be present if the same poem or piece of music were to be expressed through speech or song. Everything which may truly be termed art springs from a source which must be looked for in the spiritual world. It must be recognized, for instance, that architecture originated from quite definite conceptions of a supersensible nature. One may call to mind the external fact that, the further we look back in time, the more certainly do we find that monuments were erected over burial places. And when we call to mind such thoughts as are bound up with the erection of the tombstone, these thoughts would take some such form as this.

We must say to ourselves: The human being, when regarded in his entirety, does not achieve the goal of his existence by earthly life alone. He forsakes the physical body with his true being when he passes through the gate of death. His existence is continued beyond the boundary of his life on earth.

The question arises: In what way will the human being be received by the cosmos when he forsakes his physical body ?—and anyone who is able to perceive as imagination this mystery of the human being, anyone able to solve this riddle imaginatively, will discover that the answer is contained in the forms of the memorial monument or tomb.

A monumental memorial stone erected over a grave is moulded in forms which seem to conceal in themselves those lines and directions along which the soul, when released from the body, will wing its way into the wide spaces of the cosmos. The tombstone answers for us the question: What are the directions taken by the soul when it forsakes the physical body?

This of course is a very radical conception of architecture. For the conception of architecture may quite justifiably be widened out so as to include certain buildings necessary for life on earth. We can then put the question to ourselves in another form, albeit this is more prosaic: If the human being, while on the earth, is obliged to have the protection of some quite definite shelter for that which is the vehicle of his soul during earthly life, what architectural surroundings suited to what he has to do on earth must he have for his physical body?

I can only touch on these things, but I wish to point out by their means how architecture, for instance, has emanated from a supersensible origin, from a spiritual vision.

And again, when examining plastic art, one will find that the origin of sculpture lies in the answer to the question: What was the work of the Gods on the human form, and what does the human being himself make out of this form during his life on earth? What in this human form is the gift of the Gods? How does the soul-life of the human being influence this divine gift?

That which is added to this divine gift by the soul-life of man is left out of account by the sculptor as not belonging to art. That which in the human form is the gift of the Gods was what was originally made manifest through plastic art.

It was during an age in which people pondered the question: What are the directions taken by the soul after death?—that monumental architecture came into existence. This may still be seen from those Catholic Churches where the altar is a tomb or memorial, and even from the Gothic churches, for these are erected over a tomb. Just as architectural conceptions were originally born out of a supersensible vision, so the conceptions of sculpture arose in an age in which people were considering the question: In what way is the human body a gift of the Gods?

In the case of each individual form of art it is possible to point out how in the corresponding epoch of time the origin of a particular form of art arose out of the raising of human consciousness into supersensible worlds. And all naturalistic tendencies in art, everything which is not a spiritual inheritance, must be looked upon as signs of decadence, as signals of the downfall of art.

From this one may see that the origin of any art can only be traced back to supersensible worlds. When we examine the special character of our present age, it speaks to us on all sides of the way in which the forces of the subconscious and of the unconscious are weaving and working in the psycho-spiritual life of man. Most people to-day, however, allow their unconscious life to remain unconscious. Formerly, when anyone showed a certain tendency in his soul-life, people simply expressed their trust in the goodness of God, which meant that they were not going to bother any more about it. And to-day also it must be said of most people who talk about ‘the unconscious’, that they also allow the unconscious life to remain unconscious; they are not really troubling about it. On the other hand, it is the task of anthroposophical spiritual knowledge to raise up this unconscious life and unite it with a super-consciousness, to grasp what lives directly in the human being as psychic-spiritual in its connection with the higher spirituality.

In this respect, however, we find that, as a means of human expression, speech can be said only partially to reveal the human being. Speech is above all the vehicle of thought; and the way in which thought has developed in our modern civilization has led to the loss of poetry through too much thinking about it. This shows itself most clearly in the fact, in spite of a healthy reaction in this direction,—that it is no longer possible to recite or declaim in a way which is really artistic. It is only with years of work and infinite pains that Frau Dr. Steiner has succeeded in leading declamation and recitation back to their true form.

A true art of recitation and declamation reveals the essential nature of poetry. For the nature of poetry may only be discovered by one who with full inner understanding can echo the words of the poet: ‘Spricht die Seele, so spricht, ach, schon die Seele nicht mehr’. (If the soul speaks, then alas, the soul speaks no more.) When the soul comes to the lips, finding expression in words which have long lost their connection with the realities of the universe, then we have prose; we no longer have poetry. We only rediscover poetry when we return to a manner of speech in which the words wing their way in greater or lesser curves, in undulating waves, or lines, sharp and angular, thus forming themselves into the strophe or verse. Such pictures of the imagination as are sought by the true poet must be led over into the rhythms of the Iambic or the Trochaic, into pulse or beat, into the melodic phrase which can transform speech into music. Then we reach something which lies beyond words; whereas most people to-day emphasize the prose element in recitation and declamation, even if, as I have said, a reaction has already set in.

Speaking in a wide sense, however, we must hold to the fact that a poem can only fully be understood when the following is borne in mind.

The reciter or declaimer has no means at his disposal other than the utterance of words. All the possibilities of his art lie in the way the words are spoken. Anyone who understands how to listen to recitation or declamation with the ear of an artist feels conjured up within him an impression either imaginative or musical, a picture arising out of the actual sounds of speech, or out of the musical element in speech,—both of which are on a far higher level than thought.

Thought is a reflection of sense-impressions. We ascend to the supersensible. When we express thought by means of speech, then, because thought lives in the breath, it calls upon that which unites itself with the breath. And with the breath is connected the pulsation of the blood.

The pulsation of the blood, even to its slightest variations, expresses the experiences and perceptions of the soul; it is the expression of the soul-life. Anyone able to enter into these things with true insight is aware that, if we speak, for instance, such a word as ‘Klingen’, the blood-pulsation during the first syllable ‘Kling’, where there is the i-sound, differs from that during the second syllable, where the sound is e. When, with the help of the breath, thought is allowed to stream into words, the blood-pulsation, the inner movement of the human being, is stimulated.

This process continues as long as we remain in the sphere of thought. If thought clothes itself in pictures, as it can do by means of words, then we have a task different from the mere stimulation of the activity in the blood.

At the present time, when anyone speaks the sound i, it is spoken with the greatest indifference. It is an i merely, a sound which occurs in so and so many words. But this was not the case when the i originally appeared in human life, when it was literally wrested out of the being of man.

Anyone really able to experience the i would feel the way in which this sound is permeated by the breath, and would also realize the intimate connection of the breath with the pulsation of the blood. He would know that with the utterance of the sound i the speaker places himself, his own being, as it were, in space. With the e-sound, on the other hand, he feels an inner spiritual experience. When he utters the sound o he must have the feeling: the spiritual reveals itself before him. For anyone who can feel and experience language, each individual sound transforms itself into a picture, taking on quite definite contours.

Language is rich in feeling and this manifests itself in the transition from one sound to another. In the course of civilization we have lost that inner jubilation which should be experienced in the case of certain words. Soberness and indifference have conquered and the soul-life of the human being has become soured and morose. This is why, when modern civilization speaks, one frequently feels that words are produced by tongues coated with a mixture of salt and vinegar. In this civilized manner of speaking, articulation has become such that all sounds tend towards a type of hissing dental sound; they have the effect of a mixture of salt and vinegar on the tongue. But the primal language of humanity was a liquid honey. Language is essentially sweet in its nature; and it is the means by which the being of man reveals itself in sound. Poetry to-day is fettered when it struggles to embody feeling in words, we have lost from language the feeling which it once possessed.

If this feeling is to be re-awakened, language as such must be raised to a higher level. We must realize that human speech in all its aspects is, as it were, overshadowed by a heavenly world, wherein the whole content of the soul-life of man is expressed in a mighty panorama.

When one gains the possibility of perceiving that archetype of which speech is the shadow, one becomes aware of an imaginative language in which imaginations can be expressed through the microcosm, a little world, through man, who is enabled by his form as a spatial being to bring all mysteries to expression.

When one has learned to know those imaginations which reveal themselves in their relationship to all the separate forms of speech, one may then pass over to the separate forms of song. And when these are translated into the sphere of human movement we get this art of eurythmy. There is an imaginative revelation of language. Language to-day has become intellectualistic. If we go back to the imaginative origin of language,—and we must do this, for in each and every sphere we must find our way back to what is spiritual,—then we shall feel how necessary it is to bring imagination into language once more. This may be done by making use, as the most significant means of artistic expression, of the possibilities of human movement in space, of the actual movements in space of the human being himself. When we wish to give expression to the deeper elements lying behind language we must do more than merely influence the circulation of the blood, which we do in speech owing to the connection existing between the breathing and the blood. We must enter a realm which soars, as it were, above the head, above thoughts, above abstract language; we must enter the reahn of imaginative language. For this we need, not the circulation of the blood merely, which is influenced when we speak even when standing still; but we must pass over from the circulation of the blood into the visible movements of the human being himself. Then the gestures in the air which are produced by speech, for we unconsciously impress the imagination into air-gestures,—are transformed into visible gestures. And these visible gestures are eurythmy.

Eurythmy has arisen out of the very nature of our age and out of its fundamental needs. Just as one can show how architecture had to arise out of one particular epoch, and how sculpture, painting and music arose in their corresponding epochs, so one day people will understand that eurythmy, this art of human movement, was bound to arise out of this our present age.