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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

Foreword to the First Edition

It has been a task of special difficulty to weld into book form these lectures which originally depended so much upon the living co-operation of lecturer and demonstrators. These lectures were not meant as an encyclopaedic recapitulation of the whole sphere of eurhythmy; they were given just at that point in the evolution of eurhythmy where it became necessary to review all that had been accomplished during the course of many years’ activity, and which had already been carried out into the world by the various teachers; The intention was to examine and correct the results of this work and ‘to gather together a number of guiding lines, developed entirely from out of the nature of eurhythmy itself.’ Rudolf Steiner says in the last lecture of this course that his intention was to give his lectures such a form that they would show ‘how eurhythmy arises out of the feeling life, out of the soul; how a eurhythmic technique must be won from out of the love of eurhythmy, just as everything must in reality arise out of love.’ And indeed his own words streamed forth from a fountain of love, bringing help and aid to the work already accomplished,—the work which from then on was to be based on an even surer foundation. Up to this time there had been no shorthand reports of the teaching by means of which Rudolf Steiner introduced this art to the world. In the year 1912 he gave ten lessons to a seventeen year old girl, who, through the death of her father, was faced with the necessity of assisting in the maintenance of her younger brothers and sisters. She greatly wished to devote herself to some art of movement which was not based upon the materialistic tendencies of the age. This concrete fact proved the impulse for that teaching which has resulted in eurhythmy. I was invited to take part in these lessons; they consisted in the rudiments of sound-formation, and a number of exercises in reality belonging to the educational aspect of eurhythmy,—that is to say the basic principles of standing, walking and running, certain postures and gestures, and a number of staff exercises and rhythmic exercises. From these basic principles several girls, pupils of the first eurhythmist, worked out the educational aspect of eurhythmy; later they passed on to the expression of poems by means of movements corresponding to the sounds. This was the first phase of eurhythmic development. Every now and again, when the work was shown to him, Rudolf Steiner explained and corrected, answering any questions put to him. A second phase of eurhythmic development began when this new art found a foothold in Dornach, at the Goetheanum. The first group of young teachers requested and received a further course, in which more especially teaching about the formation of words, word-relationships, the nature of speech, the structure of poetry was given, as also new group forms. The work was carried out into the world, but the war soon checked its activity. In order to save this art and to rescue the eurhythmists from their enforced inactivity, it became necessary for me to take the work in hand. Destiny brought this task to me quite naturally, for a new style of recitation was necessary for eurhythmy, and I had to find my way into this new method, to understand and develop it. I recognized the great significance of eurhythmy as a regenerating source for all branches of art, and deeply regretted the fact that the eager work of these young eurhythmists should be rendered fruitless by the war. There is no better remedy against the errors of taste of the present day than this new art, which leads us back to the primeval forces, to the creative forces of the universe. It is of untold benefit to mankind. Thus I worked half of the year in Germany with one group of eurhythmists, and the other half of the year at the Goetheanum in Dornach, always supported and assisted by Rudolf Steiner, to whom we could turn with all our questions. The instruction we received from him in the course of time has been gathered together in book form by Annemarie Dubach-Donath, one of our best and most experienced eurhythmists, the second in that line of young girls who devoted themselves to the study of eurhythmy. This book, entitled The Basic Principles of Eurythmy, and published by the Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, sets forth and explains these principles, thus building a foundation which is, absolutely necessary if eurhythmy is to be understood, and without which it would always remain incomplete.

We met together to take part in this course as if uniting in a common festival. Many were the questions put to Rudolf Steiner; he recapitulated the teaching, clearing up many things about which we held differing opinions. The whole nature of this course was that of spontaneous improvisation; diagrams were rapidly sketched on the board, exercises demonstrating certain points were carried out by the eurhythmists; everything bore the character of intimate conversation and co-operative work, not of pedantic instruction. This was often the case with the teaching given by Rudolf Steiner to his pupils, but never to such a degree as in this course on eurhythmy. He himself, in all probability, wished the content of these lectures first to be assimilated and experienced, and then later on cast into another form and given to the world through the agency of some other person. Now, however, when he has gone from us, his own words are what we value most. Even here,—when the effect cannot be other than fragmentary, constantly interrupted as the lectures were by practical example and demonstration,—many subtle relationships are brought to light, and we are moved to the heights and depths of our being in a way which would be impossible through the words of another. During his lectures, as he himself delivered them, the cadences of his voice seemed to stream out from spiritual depths, revealing radiant glimpses of cosmic mysteries. And now, even after his death, he still makes for us that sacrifice which he had to make throughout his whole life,—the sacrifice, that is to say, of allowing the disjointed fragments of his spirit to be preserved and written down by another hand. Those who drew life from his spirit demanded this sacrifice. None knew what it cost him. But the sacrifice was made. It has saved for our age the wisdom which reveals the relationship of universe and man; it has preserved for present-day humanity,—no longer able to remember the word of the spirit without the aid of the written record,—that store of knowledge which can raise man ever more and more to the consciousness of the concrete reality of the spirit; it contains the kindling, life-awakening spark.

Among the many branches of the spiritual work of Rudolf Steiner eurhythmy was one of those which he held most dear. It developed quite organically from the smallest beginnings, adding shoot to shoot, and reaching goodly proportions, thanks to the health-giving nurture and tireless labours of its creator. It ennobled those who gave themselves to its study, compelling them more and more to put aside all that is personal; it left no room for caprice. Its inherent laws were rooted in a spiritual necessity; these laws were gladly acknowledged, for in them one experienced necessity, one experienced God. This is why eurhythmy was able to arouse such heartfelt enthusiasm; many eager students banded themselves together in selfless work, so that the field of activity grew ever wider and wider. Side by side with the development of recitation, eurhythmy entered into the realm of music and in this domain also it opened up fresh channels and gave fresh possibilities of expression. A new art of stage lighting came into being, following the laws of eurhythmy, and a new style of dress, simpler, more impersonal, more dignified; these were based upon the experience of the colours, upon what might be called a eurhythmy of colour. In its connection with the drama, eurhythmy led to a means of representing those beings which otherwise had to be represented in a more or less materialistic way. The portrayal of the super-sensible and sub-sensible in earthly life now became possible. Thus, as the years went by, we were able to produce on the stage of the Schreinerei at the Goetheanum all those scenes in Faust in which the supersensible plays a part and which otherwise are either omitted or mishandled. The romantic Walpurgisnacht revealed undreamed of life and intricacy of detail, and the classical Walpurgisnacht also, with its manifold ghostly happenings. Elves, angels, the hosts of heavenly beings were represented in these performances with simplicity and dignity, and in a way entirely convincing. The greater our activity and work the greater was our gain. Every effort which resulted in deeds was rewarded by fresh gifts from our generous teacher. So many possibilities of work arose that we could not keep pace with them in the time at our disposal.

After several years of tireless training and a good deal of stage experience before friendly audiences, the time came for eurhythmy to be carried out into the world. The result was striking; it was received with enthusiastic appreciation or violent opposition,—never with indifference. We were threatened with the ostracism of the cultured world; the press representatives were usually instructed to write from an antagonistic point of view, even if, as they often asserted, they themselves were enthusiastic. Representatives of other branches of art were often deeply impressed, often, also, aggressively ironical. Members of such societies as aim at reforms of all kinds felt their nebulous systems threatened by an unknown but assured and powerful force. Unprejudiced onlookers thanked God that there could be so true and pure an art. Children frequently asked if those were the angels of whom they had been told, and loud ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ of wonderment were often the eloquent testimony of their impressions. This art worked into the quagmire of our modern civilization as a purifying light or flame; the lovers of darkness gave vent to their opprobrium,—those who wished to rise up out of the low-lying levels of our civilization felt as if cleansed and purified. The power of the spirit manifested itself in this art and its effect was purifying and invigorating.

It so chances that I am writing these words in England. The life of London, the capital of the world, has been working upon me, the quintessence of that element in our modern civilization which has produced the predominance of all that is physical in life, of all that can serve our material well-being. The business life of this world-centre, its industrial and commercial life, rushes noisily on its way. That to-day is a matter of course. But the menace to humanity is this: everywhere one hears the shrill sound of the wireless, the rasping of the gramophone, the whirring of the film; machinery has conquered on all sides, even in the realm of art; the most vital impulses are liable to waver and become mechanized. A performance which I witnessed in the Rudolf Steiner Hall in London, with its beautiful stage, a performance consisting of the interpretation of the music of early composers played on old instruments, had the effect of pictures from a past age. The performers (who were not Anthroposophists), attired in costumes of the period, produced a reposeful music full of feeling and inwardness, a music demanding leisure, which is not to be hurried, which deepens the contemplative life. The effect of such music is somewhat antiquated; but if one can persuade one’s modern nerves to adapt themselves to an earlier attitude, curbing their restlessness, it has a beneficent influence. It has about as much resemblance to the hustle of modern music as the long, flowing dresses of earlier times, still admired by painters, have to the lanky legs of to-day, where the hem of the dress comes well above the knee. The effect of these legs on the stage, when looked at from the stalls of a theatre, is terribly obtrusive. They are shown off with determination; they are meant to be seen. The qualities formerly regarded as feminine and charming are but little in evidence in a modern drawing-room. An actress, if playing the part of a young girl, likes to loll about on some padded sofa; she thrusts out her legs, crossed over each other, and beyond that one has in perspective a little bobbed or shingled head. When one is faced with a whole row of such attitudes, the aesthetic element must really be said to be lacking!

But this is only lack of beauty. What is still worse is that the very speech and gesture has been affected by this mechanical, noisy music, which rattles from all the gramophones, from the wireless, from the pianolas, and which even in many of the best London theatres has taken the place of the orchestra. They carry on their ceaseless noise during the intervals, drumming their hard sounds into the head and deadening the consciousness of the ego. When, at the end of a performance the conventional phrase of ‘God save the King’ is played and the audience rises to its feet, without the slightest pause the music falls into some wild jazz. Where is the need of breathing space or a moment’s consideration?—the machine needs no such thing. But the lack of any transition between two contrasted moods has a stultifying effect upon the soul. Young girls enter the stage, or drawing-room, even in Paris, with that rolling movement of hips and shoulders which negro dances have made second nature. They themselves do not notice this eternal rolling movement of the limbs: the effect is almost that of a wound-up doll, or of hypnosis. In woods, on the sea-shore, everywhere one is horrified by the sound of the gramophone and the sight of partners indulging in this sliding, rolling motion. Dancing, which seemed to be dying out when the decorative elegant French dances lost their charm, when even the waltz and the polka had failed to interest, has come to life again in the crude and primitive form of imitated negro dances. ‘We like the rhythm’ several girls replied, when I inquired what was so fascinating about these dances.—But this rhythm is in reality no rhythm. It is anti-rhythmic, it is an earth force which whirls upwards, an over-emphasized or furtive and indistinct beat, an increased blood pulsation coupled with lowered consciousness. One only needs to look at the figures of the dancers, with their vacant, expressionless faces, to be convinced that this is so,—especially so with the men, who now, young and old alike, have suddenly developed a passion for dancing. These dances appeal to the lower instincts, and for this reason they have as adherents even the most blasé, and those whose souls have become lifeless and barren. But that which was merely animal nature in the case of the negro has with us become mechanical. The demons of machinery here find means of access; they gain a hold on the human being through his movement, through his vitality. They do not only influence his brain, but enter into this externalizing of that which should remain as inner mood of the soul. The mechanical musical instruments exercise their powerful, soul-deadening forces, doing away with all atmosphere and feeling. And this non-rhythmic, mechanical element is even rejected in the manner of speech of modern actors on the stage. The sentences are shot out in a way which is jerky, rough and disjointed; they seem scarcely to belong to the human being, but only to his bony structure. The human being is not himself, active, but is only an automaton functioning through intellect and senses. When, added to this, there is nervous, hysterical emotion, the producer’s requirements may be said to be fulfilled. All this works its way into the souls of our young people, making them barren and empty. What will be the result? What is the outlook for future generations if no reaction sets in? A London newspaper is lying before me; a picture attracts my attention. The picture entitled ‘Urchin Humanity’ depicts a street arab,—cheeky, impertinent, with an old face,—drawing a cart. In the centre of this cart sits Science, holding a gun: Poison Gas. On one side is the figure of Literature, eagerly perusing a book: Detective Romances; on the other side the figure of Art,—she is holding the apparatus for producing films; and below her sits Music, with a gramophone on her knee.—This is our age. Self-knowledge is shown by such a picture, and self-realization,—the only path which can lead to salvation.

One might despair; one might give way to the most drastic Spenglerism, if, in this time of need, the means of salvation had not also been given. Salvation lies in the spiritual work of Rudolf Steiner. He sounded the awakening call which can free humanity from the dangers of becoming animalized, stupefied and mechanized.

That which once, in the ancient Mysteries, was offered to men as Wegzehrung (Sustenance by the Way), as they traversed the path leading to the unfolding of the personality, is now offered to them anew. It is offered at this moment when the personality might be annulled, when that which is human threatens to sink to the level of the sub-human if this gift is not grasped and assimilated in its very essence. The intellect alone cannot aid us here; understanding, left to itself, has led us to Agnosticism, to ‘Ignoramibus’, to ‘Spenglerism’. But if man opens himself to that which is spiritual, if he allows the spiritual to reveal to him his path, the creative forces of the spirit will conquer the seeds of death and transmute those forces of destruction which are now at work in ‘urchin humanity’.

In order to see that which is of really great dimensions one must wait for the discovery of a new apparatus; otherwise it can as little be observed as that which is minute can be observed without the aid of the microscope. The distances of time alone may sometimes give the necessary perspective. The work of Rudolf Steiner towers so immeasurably over what may be grasped and understood at the present day that it is only the moving passage of time, with its widened outlook, which will first make possible a true valuation. It is our duty to apply ourselves to the many and various branches of the work, gradually bringing them into the range of vision; for here, on all sides may be found the life-belts to which we may ding in the surrounding waters of destruction and disintegration.

That which is seemingly limited often proves to be of the greatest significance. Let us begin with education by means of and in art; leg us trace the path leading back to the source from which art had its first beginning. Truly this origin was no mean one. It was the dance of the stars and its reflection in the human sphere that was known as the dance of the planets, as Temple Dancing. Here the creative forces streamed into the human body, building its form, directing it in space, and conjuring up those forces which give to man the possibility of working creatively upon himself.

And out of these forces there arose in man the faculty of leading his inner activity over into works of art, plastic and musical. Such works of art were channels which allowed the divine to radiate down into matter. They were a reflection of the cosmos.

But when the onslaught of materialism silenced the divine forces within man, rendering them powerless, when the human brain became the coffin for dead thinking and was no longer able to grasp the spiritual, then arose a deliverer. He spiritualized the intellect; he freed it from its rigidity; he restored to it its living mobility.

Indeed he brought movement into all domains of human activity. We, however, had no recollection of movement in a spiritual sense, for the movement of matter, which we had laid hold of and mastered, sufficed us, intoxicating us with its rapid motion. We did not notice that the spiritual part of our being was left passive, and that as a substitute we were intoxicating ourselves with the specific movements of sport. By this means also we alienated ourselves ever further from the spiritual impulse of movement.

We must retrace our steps with awakened consciousness; we must observe for ourselves the mighty forces of movement and whither they tend to lead us; then we shall perceive a gathering together of creative activity, the forces of which give form to the organs, and we shall gain the possibility of developing new spiritual organs in ourselves.

In this way we shall conquer the rigidity, the lifelessness, the barrenness, which to-day lead people even of the finest intelligence to the extremes of pessimism.

Once more chance has put a paper into my hand,—in Hanover, where I am writing the conclusion of this foreword. Here one may read: ‘Culture (Kultur), so long as it is strong and full of motive power, works unconsciously. We are compelled to absorb and cultivate a conscious civilization. Is not this from the very outset the signal of an incurable and sterile weakness? Is it not the destruction of that seed from which springs all creative force, so that at most one may only expect a feeble echo of that which may truly be called culture? Is the circle of real culture already completed, so that there only remains for us a civilized mechanism, with perhaps some romantic glimmer remaining from the fullness of light of better days,—which also may soon fade into nothingness?’ (from the Niedersachsenbuch, 1927).

In earlier times the inhabitants of Lower Saxony unconsciously followed a spiritual guidance, and they conquered the land of the Celtic Breton and the Gael.—As Englishmen theirs was the task of developing the consciousness soul, in so far as this is bound up with the actual personality and with physical, earthly surroundings. If the German people could raise the forces of consciousness up into the sphere of the divine ego in man, then they would have fulfilled the task of the German civilization. Then they would give to the world a new culture for which all humanity would render thanks,—whereas people turn from them when, untrue to their mission they imitate the mechanistic civilization, carrying this to its furthest extremes.

The greatest herald of the spirit of Germany proclaimed this to the German people with warning voice ever and again during the catastrophe of the world war, and he uttered these stirring words:

Der deutsche Geist hat nicht vollendet,
Was er im Weltenwerden schaffen soll
Er lebt in Zukunftssorgen hoffnungsvoll,
Er hofft auf Zukunftstaten lebensvoll.
In seines Wesenstiefen fuhlt er machtig
Verborgnes, das noch reifend wirken muss.
Wie darf in Feindesmacht verstandislos
Der Wunsch nach seinem Ende sich beleben,
So lang das Leben sich ibm offenbart
Das ihn in Wesenstiefen schaffend halt!

(The German Spirit has not completed
Its destined gift to World-Becoming.
Hope-filled, it lives in cares which fill the future,
Life-filled, it hopes for deeds on which the future must depend,
And in its deepest being feels
A hidden might which yet must work to ripeness.
Opposing powers, with lack of understanding,
Desire its end. Yet of this wish how shall there be fulfilment
So long as there is manifest that life
Which in the depths sustains creative power!)

This life must be grasped by the German. It does not, however, lie in ‘keeping the race pure’, as the slogan has it. It lies in the realization of his inherent ego forces, of his divine ego forces. But the path to this leads through the realm of consciousness. The consciousness of the personality, metamorphosed and raised up to the undying ‘I’ possesses creative forces; it conceals the spirit in itself and will produce, not the mere echo of past culture, but a virile culture of its own.

It may seem that I have strayed far from the subject of the book which I am introducing, and yet this path leads us back to the inner regions of the temple from which the ancient civilizations arose, at first in Word and in Art,—not unconsciously, but guided by the most exalted spirits. They will come to our aid also, at this epoch when it has become necessary for each individual Spirit-Consciousness to work towards the gradual transmutation of itself into a universal Human-Ego-Consciousness. If we allow ourselves to receive this aid, we shall be in a position to open ourselves to the spirit in every sphere of activity,—in that sphere also which this book illumines with spiritual revelation and human knowledge. Then we shall no longer need to stimulate our slackened nerves by means of decadent negro dances which are hammered into us by machinery, turning us into machines and gradually killing out our finest human qualities; but we shall gain an understanding for a noble art of movement, having its source in the spirit, an art of movement which is the reflection of the Dance of the Stars, and which makes the language of the stars sound visibly within us in purity and truth.

Marie Steiner.
November, 1927.