Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Speech and Drama
GA 282

I. The Forming of Speech as Art

5 August 1924, Dornach

My dear Friends,

This course has a little history attached to it, and it is perhaps good that I should weave this little history into the introductory words that I propose to give today. For that is all we shall attempt in this first lecture—a general introduction to the whole subject. The proper work of the course will begin tomorrow and will be apportioned in the following way. I shall give the lectures; and then as far as demonstration is concerned, that will be taken by Frau Dr. Steiner. The course will thus be given by us both, working together.

The arrangement of the course will be, roughly speaking, as follows. Part I will be devoted to the Forming of Speech, and Part II to the Art of the Theatre—dramatic stagecraft, production and so on. Then, in Part III, we shall consider the art of the drama in relation to what it meets with in the world outside, whether in the way of simple enjoyment or of criticism and the like. We may call this third part: The Stage and the Rest of Mankind. We shall have to discuss together certain demands that our age makes upon the art of the drama, and see how we can enable it to take its right place in the life of man as it is lived today.

I said the course had a little history behind it. It began in the following way. A number of persons closely connected with the stage approached Frau Dr. Steiner and myself independently, in the conviction that anthroposophy, ready as one expects it to be to give new impulses today in every sphere of life—in religion, in art, in science—must also be able to furnish new impulses for the art of the drama. And that is most assuredly so. Several courses on speech have already been given here by Frau Dr. Steiner; and at one of them, where I also was contributing, I added some considerations that bore directly on the work of the stage. These had a stimulating effect on many of those who attended the course, some of whom have since been introducing new features into their work on the stage, that can be traced to suggestions or indications given by us. Groups of actors have made their appearance before the public as actors who acknowledge that, for them at least, the Goetheanum is a place where new impulses can be received.

And then there is also the fact that the art which has been among us since 1912, the art of eurhythmy, comes very near indeed to the art of the stage. This follows from the very conditions eurhythmy requires for its presentation. Dramatic art will, in fact, in future have to consider eurhythmy as something with which it is intimately connected.

This art of eurhythmy, when it was originally given by me, was at first thought of within quite narrow limits. I should perhaps not say ‘thought of’, for it was with eurhythmy as it is with everything within the Anthroposophical Movement that comes about in the right way: one responds to a demand of karma, and gives just so much as opportunity allows. No other way of working is possible in the Anthroposophical Movement. You will not find with us an inclination to plan ‘reforms’ or to put out some great ‘idea’ into the world. No, we take our guidance from karma. And at that time a need had arisen—it was in a quite small circle of people—to provide for some kind of vocation. It all came about in the most natural manner, but in a manner that was in absolute conformity with karma; and to begin with, what I gave went only so far as was necessary to meet this karma.

Then one could again see the working of karma in the fact that about two years later Frau Dr. Steiner, whose own domain was of course very closely affected, began to interest herself in the art of eurhythmy All that eurhythmy has since become is really due to her. Obviously therefore this present course as well, the impulse for which goes right back to the years 1913–14, must take its place in the Section for the Arts of Speech and Music, of which Frau Dr. Steiner is the leader.1The courses of study and training given at the Goetheanum were grouped by Dr. Steiner under various `Sections’, each with its Leader. For now, as a direct culmination of these events, the idea has arisen of doing something here for the development of the arts of speech and drama. Making a beginning, that is; for what we do would naturally only attain its full significance if the audience were limited to professional actors and those who, having the necessary qualifications, are hoping to become such. We should then probably have been a comparatively small circle; and we should have been able, working through the course in its three Parts (as I have explained is my intention), to carry our study far enough to allow of the participants forming themselves afterwards into a working group. They could then have gone out from Dornach as a touring company and proved the value, wherever they went, of the study we had carried through together here. For the deeper meaning of such things as I intend to put before you in this course will obviously only emerge when they are put into practice on the stage. This therefore would have been the normal outcome of a course of lectures on Speech and Drama.

That not all of you assembled here desire a course on this basis is perfectly evident. Nor would it be possible to carry it through with the present audience. Obviously, that is not feasible—although perhaps it would not, after all, be such a terrible disaster for the world if in some of our theatres the present actors could be replaced from here! But I see a few friends sitting in the audience of whom I know very well that they have no such ambition!

And so it turns out that there are two reasons why the course could not take on this orientation towards a practical end. For, in the first place, unfortunately neither those on whom it would have devolved to carry out the plan, nor we who were to give the impulse for it, have any money. Money is the very thing we are perpetually feeling the lack of. In itself the plan would have been perfectly possible, but there is no money for it; and unless it were properly financed, it could naturally not be put into effect. The only possibility would be that some of you who feel stimulated to do so should go ahead and undertake something at your own personal risk.

Secondly, such a keen interest was aroused in the course that one had to begin to consider who else might perhaps be allowed to attend. At first, we were rather strict; but the circle having been once broken into, all control goes to the winds—and that has most emphatically been our experience on this occasion.

Our course, then, will set out to present the art of the stage, with all that pertains to it, and we shall find that the art of the stage has to reach out, as it were, in many directions for whatever can contribute to its right development and orientation. Today, I want to speak in a general introductory way of what I have in mind as the essential content of our work together.

The first thing that calls for attention is that if speech is to come in any way into the service of art, it must itself be regarded as an art. This is not sufficiently realised today. In the matter of speech you will often find people adopting an attitude such as they adopt also, for example, to the writing of poetry. It would hardly occur to anyone who had not mastered the preliminaries of piano-playing to come into a company of people and sit down at the piano and play. There is, however, a tendency to imagine that anyone can write poetry, and that anyone can speak or recite. The fact is, the inadequacy and poverty of stage speaking as it is at present will never be rectified, nor will the general dissatisfaction that is felt on the matter among the performers themselves be dispelled, until we are ready to admit that there are necessary preliminaries to the art of speech just as much as there are to any performance in the sphere of music.

I was once present at an anthroposophical gathering which was arranged in connection with a course of lectures I had to give. It was a sort of ‘afternoon tea’ occasion, and something of an artistic programme was to be included. I do not want to enter here into a description of the whole affair, but there was one item on the programme of which I would like to tell you. (I myself had no share in the arrangements; these were made by a local committee.) The principal person concerned came up to me and I asked him about the programme. He said he was going to recite himself. I had then to call to my aid a technique that is often necessary in such circumstances, a technique that enables one to be absolutely horror-struck and not show it. It is a faculty that has to be learned, but I think on this occasion I succeeded pretty well, to begin with, in the exercise of this little artifice. I asked him then what he was going to recite. He said he would begin with a poem by the tutor of Frederick William IV, a poem about Kepler. I happened to know it—a beautiful poem, but terribly long, covering many pages. I said: ‘But won't it be rather long?’ He merely replied that he intended following it up with Goethe's Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily; and that if all went well, he would then go on to recite Goethe's poem Die Geheimnisse. I can assure you that with all the skill I could muster it was now far from easy to conceal my dismay.

Well, he began. The room was only of moderate size, but there were quite a number of people present. First one went out, then another, then another; and presently a group of people left the room together. Finally, one very kind-hearted lady was left sitting all alone in the middle of the room—his solitary listener! At this point the reciter said: ‘It will perhaps be rather too long.’ So ended the scene.

It is, as you see, not only outside the Anthroposophical Society but even within it that such a point of view in regard to speech may be met with. I have taken a grotesque example, but the same sort of thing is constantly occurring in milder form, and it is imperative that we make an end of it, if our performances in this domain are to find approval with those who understand art and are moved by genuine artistic feeling. There must be no doubt left in our minds that the forming of speech has to be an art, down to each single sound that is uttered, just as music has to be an art, down to each single note that is played.

Only when this is realised will any measure of satisfaction be possible; and, what is still more important, only then will the way open for style to come again into the arts of speech and drama. For the truth is, people have ceased troubling about style altogether in this domain; and no art is possible without style.

But now, if we are to speak together here of these things, the need inevitably arises that I should at the same time draw your attention to the way that speech and drama are related to the occult—the occult that is ever there behind. And that brings us to the question: Whence in man does speech really come? Where does it originate?

Speech proceeds, not directly from the I or ego of man, but from the astral organism. The animal has also its astral organism, but does not normally bring it to speech. How is this? The explanation lies in the fact that the members of the human being, and also of the animal, are not there merely on their own; each single member is interpenetrated by all the others, and its character modified accordingly.

It is never really quite correct to say: Man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body and I; for the statement may easily give the impression that these members of the human being are quite distinct from one another, and that we are justified in forming a conception of man which places them side by side. Such a conception is, however, quite untrue. In waking consciousness, the several members interpenetrate. We ought rather to say: Man has not just a physical body as such (the physical body would look quite different if it simply followed its own laws), but a physical body that is modified by an etheric body and again by an astral body, and then again by an I or ego. In each single member, the three other members are present. And so, if we are considering the astral body, we must not forget that every other member of man's nature is also present in it. It is the same with the animal: in the astral body of the animal the physical body is present, and the etheric body too. But man has, in addition, the I, which also modifies the astral body; and it is from this astral body, modified by the I, that the impulse for speech proceeds. It is important to recognise this if we want to carry our study of the art of speech right into the single sounds. For, while in ordinary everyday speech the single sounds are formed in entire unconsciousness, the activity of forming them has to be lifted up into consciousness if speech is to be raised to the level of art.

How then did speech begin? Speech did not originate in the speaking we use in ordinary life, any more than writing originated in the writing of today. Compare with the latter the picture-writing of ancient Egypt; that will give you some idea of how writing first came about. And it is just as useless to look for the origin of speech in the ordinary talking of today, which contains all manner of acquired qualities—the conventional, the intellectual, and so on. No, speech has its source in the artistic life. And if we want in our study of speech to find our way through to what is truly artistic, we must at least have begun to perceive that speech originates in the artistic side of man's nature—not in the intellectual, not in man's life of knowledge, as knowledge is understood today.

Time was when men were simply incapable of speaking without rhythm, when they felt a need always, whenever they spoke, to speak in rhythm. And if a man were saying something to which he wanted to give point or emphasis, then he would attain this by the way he formed and shaped his language. Take a simple example. Suppose you wanted to say—speaking right out of the primeval impulses of speech—that someone keeps stumbling as he walks It would suffice to say: He stumbles over sticks. For there were certainly sticks of wood lying about in primeval times. There were also plenty of stones, and you could just as well say: He stumbles over stones. You would not, however, say either. You would say: He stumbles über Stock and Stein (over stick and stone). For, whether or no the words exactly describe what the speaker sees, we have in ‘stick and stone’ an inner artistic forming of speech. Or again, in order to make our statement more telling, we do not merely say that a ship is sinking together with the men in it. We add what is perhaps far from welcome on a ship; we add the mice. If we are really forming our speech out of what was the original impulse behind all speaking, we say: The ship is going down mit Mann and Maus (with man and mouse).2English parallels will readily occur to the reader, such as 'might and main', 'safe and sound', etc., and our use of 'stocks and stones' in another connection.

Today, the original impulse for speech is present in mankind only in the very smallest degree. There is ample reason for the fact. Unhappily, speech as an art has no place now in education.3The Waldorf School in Stuttgart, founded in 1919 by Emil Molt, was the first of the now numerous Rudolf Steiner Schools where the teaching and education are carried on in accordance with his indications. Dr. Steiner was a constant visitor to the school from the beginning, giving help and advice in every detail of management and method up to the time of his last illness in the winter of 1924-5. Our schools, and the schools of other nations too, have lost touch with art altogether; and that is why in our Waldorf School we have to make such a strong stand for the artistic in education.’ The schools of our time have been founded and established on science and learning—that is, on what counts as such in the present day, and it is inartistic. Yes, that is what has happened; this modern kind of science and learning has for a long time been steadily seeping down into the education given in our schools. Gradually, in the course of the last four or five centuries, these have been changing, until now, for anyone who enters one of them with artistic feeling, these schools of ours give the impression of something quite barbaric.

But if art is absent in our schools—and don't forget that the children have to speak in class; good speaking is part of the instruction given at school—if the artistic side of education is completely absent, it need not surprise us if art is lacking in grown men and women. There is, in fact, among mankind today a sad dearth of artistic feeling; one can therefore hardly expect to find recognition of the need to form speech artistically.

We do not often have it said to us: ‘You didn't say that beautifully’, but very often, ‘You are not speaking correctly’. The pedantic grammarian pulls us up, but it is seldom we are reproved for our speech on artistic grounds. It seems to be generally accepted as a matter of course that speech has no need of art.

Now, the astral body is mainly in the unconscious part of man's nature. But the artist in speech must learn to control what in ordinary speaking takes its course there unconsciously. In recent times people have begun to appreciate this. Hence the various methods that have been put forward—not only for singing, but also for recitation, declamation, etc. These methods, however, generally set to work in a very peculiar way.

Suppose you wanted to teach someone to plough, and never took any trouble to see what the plough was like, or the field, did not even stop to consider what the ploughing is for, but instead began enquiring: ‘If here is the person's arm, at what angle should he hold it at the elbow? What will be its natural position for ploughing?’ (How constantly one hears this word ‘natural’!) ‘And what movement should he be making with his leg while he holds his arm in this position?’ Suppose, that is, you were to take not the slightest interest in what has to be done to the field by the plough, but were merely to ask: ‘What method must I use to bring the pupil into a certain train of movements?’ It sounds absurd, but modern methods of speech training are of this very kind. No regard whatever is paid to the objective comprehension of what speech is.

If you want to teach a man to plough, the first thing will be to make sure that you yourself know how to handle a plough and can plough well and accurately; and then you will have to watch your pupil and see that he does not make mistakes. It is no different with speech. All these modern methods that are constructed in the most dilettante fashion (I mean these methods of breath technique, diaphragm technique, nasal resonance and the rest) omit to take into consideration what is, after all, the heart and core of the matter. They set out to instruct as though speech itself were not there at all! For they take their start, not from speech, but from anatomy.

What is important before all else is a thorough knowledge of the organism of speech, of the living structure of speech as such. This organism of speech has been produced, has come forth, out of man himself in the course of his evolution. Consequently, if rightly understood, it will not be found to contradict, in its inherent nature, the organisation of man as a whole. Where it seems to do so, we must look into the speech itself in detail to see where the fault lies; it will not be possible to put the matter right by means of methods that have as little to do with speech as gymnastics has to do with ploughing—unless a plough should ever be included among the gymnastic equipment, which up to now I have never known to be the case. Not that I should consider it stupid or ridiculous to include a plough in the apparatus of a gymnasium; it might perhaps be a very good idea. It has only, so far as I know, never yet been attempted.

The first thing to do then is to acquire a thorough knowledge of the speech organism, this speech organism of ours that has, in the course of mankind's evolution, broken loose, as it were, from the astral body, come straight forth from the ego-modified configuration of man's astral body. For that is where speech comes from.

We must, however, not omit to take into account that the astral body impinges downwards on the etheric body and upwards on the ego—that is, when man is awake; and in sleep we normally do not speak.

Consider first what happens through the fact that the astral body comes up against the etheric body. It meets there processes of which man knows very little in ordinary life. For what are the functions of the ether-body? The ether-body receives the nourishment which is taken in by the mouth, and gradually transforms it to suit the needs of the human organism—or rather, I should say, to meet its need of the force contained in the nourishment. Then again it is the etheric organism that looks after growth, from childhood upwards until man is full grown. And the ether-body has also a share in the activities of the soul; it takes care, for instance, of memory. Man has, however, very little conscious knowledge of the various functions discharged by the ether- body. He knows their results. He knows, for example, when he is hungry; but he can scarcely be said to know how this condition of hunger is brought about. The activity of the ether-body remains largely unconscious.

Now it is the production of the vowel element in speech that takes place between astral body and ether body. When the impulse of speech passes over from the astral body, where it originates, to the ether body, we have the vowel. The vowel is thus something which comes into operation -deep within the inner being of man; it is formed more unconsciously than is speech in general. In the vowel sounds we are dealing with intensely intimate aspects of speech; what comes to expression in them is something that belongs to the very essence of man's being. This is then the result when the speech impetus impinges on the ether-body: it gives rise to the vowel element in speech.

In the other direction, the astral body impinges on the I, the ego. The I, in the form in which we have it in Earthman, is something everyone knows and recognises. For it is by means of the I that we have our sense perceptions. We owe it also essentially to the I that we are able to think. All conscious activity belongs in the sphere of the I or ego. What goes on in speech, however, since there the astral body is also concerned, cannot be performed entirely consciously, like some fully conscious activity of will. A fragment of consciousness does, nevertheless, definitely enter into the consonantal element in ordinary speech; for the speaking of consonants takes place between astral body and ego.

We have thus traced back to their source the forming of consonants and the forming of vowels. But we can go further. We can ask: What is it in the totality of man's nature that speech brings to revelation? We shall be able to answer this question when we have first dealt with the further question: How was it with the primeval speech of man? What was speech like in its beginnings?

The speech of primitive man was verily a wonderful thing. Apart from the fact that man felt instinctively obliged from the first to speak in rhythm and in measure, even to speak in assonance and alliteration—apart from this, in those early times, man felt in speech and thought in speech.

Looking first into his life of feeling, we find it was not like ours today. In comparison with it, our feelings tend to remain in the abstract. Primeval man, in the very moment of feeling, were it even a feeling of the most intimate kind, would at once express it in speech. He would not have found it possible, for instance, to have a tender feeling for a little child without being prompted in his soul to bring that feeling to expression in the form of his speech. Merely to say: ‘I love him tenderly’, would have had no meaning for him; what would have had meaning would have been to say perhaps: ‘I love this little child so very ei-ei-ei!’[5] There was always the need to permeate one's whole feeling with artistically formed speech.

Neither in those olden times did men have abstract thoughts as we do today. Abstract thoughts without speech were unknown. As soon as man thought something, the thought immediately became in him word and sentence. He spoke it inwardly. It is therefore not surprising that at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John we do not find it said: ‘In the beginning was the Thought’, but : ‘In the beginning was the Word’—the verbum, the Word. today we think within, thinking our abstract thoughts; primeval man spoke within, talked within.

Such then was the character of primeval speech. It contained feeling within it, and thought. It was, so to say, the treasure-casket in man for feeling and thought. Thought has now shifted, it has slipped up more into the ego; speech has remained in the astral body; feeling has slid down into the ether body.

The poetry of primeval times was one, was single; it expressed in speech what man could feel and think about things The original poetry was one. When, later on, speech threw back feeling inwards, into man's inner nature, that gave rise to the lyric mood of speech. The kind of poetry that has remained most of all like the primeval, the kind of poetry that, more than any other, is inherent in speech itself is the epic. It is, in fact, impossible to speak epic poetry without first reviving something of the original primal feeling in regard to speech. Finally, drama drives speech outwards and stands, in so far as Earth-man is concerned, in relation with the external world.

The artist who is taking part in drama, unless of course he is speaking a monologue, confronts another person. And this fact, that he is face to face with another person, enters into his speaking just as surely as what he experiences in himself.

The artist who has to speak a lyric is not confronting another person. He faces himself alone. His speech must accordingly be so formed that it may become the pure expression of his inner being. The lyric of today can therefore not be spoken in any other way than by letting even the consonants lean over a little in the direction of vowels. (We shall go into this in more detail later.) To speak lyrical poetry aright, you need to know that every consonant carries in it a vowel nuance. L, for example, carries in it an i (ee), which you can see for yourselves from the fact that in many languages where at some time in their development an I occurs in a certain word, in other forms of that word we find an i.4For example, in German-speaking countries, a boy named Hans may be called ' for short ' either Hansi or Hansl. As a matter of fact, all consonants have within them something of the quality of a vowel. And for speaking lyrics it is of the first importance that we should learn to perceive the vowel in each single consonant.

The epic requires a different feeling. (All that I am saying in this connection has reference to recitation or declamation before an audience.) The speaker must feel: When I come to a vowel, I am coming near to man himself; but directly I come to a consonant, it is things I am catching at, things that are outside. If the artist once has this feeling, then it will be possible for the epic to be truly present in his speaking. Epic has to do, not with man's inner life alone, but with the inner life and an imagined outer object. For the theme of the epic is not there; it is only imagined. If we are relating something, it must belong to the past, or in any case cannot be there in front of us; otherwise, there would be no occasion to relate it. The speaker of epic is thus concerned with the human being and the object or theme that exists only in thought.

For the speaker of drama, the ‘object’ of his speaking is present in its full reality, the person he addresses is standing there in front of him.

There then you have the distinguishing characteristics of lyric, epic and drama. They need to be well and carefully noted. I have already in past years spoken of them here and there from different points of view, and have sought to evolve a suitable terminology for distinguishing the different ways of speaking them. What I have given on those earlier occasions—I mean it to be experienced, I mean it to be felt. You must have a clear and accurate feeling for what each kind of poetry demands. Thus, you should feel that to speak lyrical poetry means to speak right out of one's inner being.

The inner being of man is here revealing itself. When man's soul within him is so powerfully affected that it ‘must out’—and this is how it is with the lyric—then what was, to begin with, mere feeling, passes over into a calling aloud; and we have, from the point of view of speech, declamation. One domain, then, of the art of speech is declamation, and it is especially adapted for lyrical poetry. The lyrical element is present of course in every form of poetry; while we are speaking epic or drama, we can often find ourselves in the situation of having to make the transition here and there to the lyrical.

With the speaker of epic, the essential point is that he has before him an object that is not seen but thought, and by means of the magic that lies in his speech he is continually ‘citing’ this object. The artist of the epic is pre-eminently a ‘re-citer’. So here we have recitation. The speaker of the lyric expresses himself, reveals himself; he is a declaimer. The speaker who cites his object, making it present to his audience by the magic of his speech—he is a reciter.

And now in this course of lectures we have opportunity to go further and complete our classification. We come then to the speaker who has before him, not his imagined object that he cites, but present before him in bodily form the object to whom he speaks, with whom he is conversing. And so we reach the third form of speech: conversation.

It is through these three kinds of speech-formation that speaking becomes an art. The last is the one that is most misunderstood. Conversation, as we know all too well, has been dragged right away from the realm of art, and today you will find persons looked up to as past masters in conversation who are less at home in art than they are—shall I say—in diplomacy, or perhaps in the ‘afternoon-tea’ attitude to life. The feeling that conversation is a thing capable of highly artistic development has been completely lost.

Sometimes of course acting ceases to be conversation and becomes monologue. When this happens, drama reaches over into the other domains, into declamation and recitation.

To draw distinctions in this way between different forms of poetry may perhaps seem a little pedantic, but it will help to show that we do really have to create for the teaching of speech something similar to what we have, for example, in the teaching of music. When, for instance, a dialogue is to be put on the stage, it will be necessary to form that dialogue in a way that is right and appropriate to it as ‘conversation’.

I would like now to show you how within speech itself, if we see it truly for what it is, the need for artistic forming emerges. We use in our speaking some thirty-two sounds. Suppose you had learned the sounds, but were not yet able to put them together in words. If you were then to take up Goethe's Faust, the whole book would consist for you of just these thirty-two sounds. For it contains nothing more! And yet, in their combination, these thirty-two sounds make Goethe's Faust.

A great deal is implied in this statement. We have simply these thirty-two sounds; and through the forming and shaping of them, sound by sound, the whole measureless wealth of speech is called into being. But the forming is already there within the sounds themselves, within this whole system of sounds. Let us take an example.

We speak the sound a (ah). What is this sound? A is released from the soul, when the soul is overflowing with wonder. That is how it was to begin with. Wonder, astonishment, liberated from the soul the sound a. Every word that has the sound a has originated in a desire to express wonder; take any word you will, you will never be altogether out, nor need you ever be afraid of being dilettante, if you assume this Take, for instance, the word Band (a band or ribbon). In some way it happened that what the man of an earlier time called Band filled him with wonder, and that is why he brought the a sound into the word. (That the same thing has in another language quite a different name is of no consequence. It means only that the people who spoke that language felt differently related to the object.) Whenever man is particularly astonished, then if he has still some understanding of what it is to be thus filled with wonder (as was the case when language began to be formed), he will bring that wonder or astonishment to expression by means of the sound a. One has only to understand where wonder is in place. You can, for instance, marvel at someone's luxurious Haarwuchs (growth of hair) You can also marvel at the Kahlkopf (bald head) of someone who has lost his Haar. Or again, you can be astounded at the effect of a Haarwasser (hair lotion) which makes the hair grow again. In fact, everything connected with hair can evoke profound admiration and astonishment—so much so that we do not simply write Har, we write the a twice—Haar!

Wherever you meet the sound a, look for the starting- point of the word in an experience of wonder, and you will be carried back to the early days of evolution, when man was first shaping and forming his words. And this forming of words was an activity that worked with far greater power than present-day theories would lead us to suppose.

But now, what does this mean? It means that when a man is filled with wonder at some object or event, he gives himself up to that object or event, he lets himself go. For how is the sound a made? What does it consist in? A requires the whole organism of speech to be opened wide, beginning from the mouth. Man lets his astral body flow out. When he says a, he is really on the point of falling asleep. Only, he stops himself in time. But how often will the feeling of fatigue find expression at once in the sound a! Whenever we utter a, we are letting our astral body out, or beginning to do so. The act of opening out wide—that is what you have in a.

The absolute opposite of a is u (oo). When you say u, then beginning from the mouth you contract the speech organs, wherever possible, before you let the sound go through. The whole speech organism is more closed with u than with any other vowel sound. There then you have the two contrasting opposites: a u. Between a and u lies o. O actually includes within it, in rightly formed speech, the processes of a and the processes of u; o holds together in a kind of harmony the processes of opening out and the processes of closing up.


U signifies that we are in process of waking up, that we are becoming continually more awake than we were. When you say u, it shows that you are feeling moved to wake up in respect of some object that you perceive. When the owl makes himself heard at night, you instinctively exclaim: ‘Uhu!’5The commoner German word for owl is Eule, but Uhu, the specific name for the eagle-owl, is also used. You could not find stronger expression for the desire to wake up. The owl makes you want to wake up and be alive to the fact of its presence. And if someone were to fling a little sand at you—we don't of course have sand on our desks now, we use blotting paper—but suppose you were being pelted with sand, then, if you were to give way to your feelings without restraint, you would say ‘uff’. For it is the same whether something or other wakes you up, or you yourself are wanting to wake up. In either case u comes out. The astral is here uniting itself more closely with the etheric and physical bodies. The a is thus more consonantal and the u more vocalic


In some of the German dialects, one can often not discern whether people are saying a or r, for the r becomes with them vocalic and the a consonantal. In the Styrian dialect, for example, it is impossible to know whether someone is saying ‘Bur’ or ‘Bua’.

All the other vowels lie between a and u. Roughly speaking, the o is in the middle, but not quite; it occupies the same position between a and u as in music the fourth does in the octave.

Suppose now we want to express what is contained in O. In O we have the confluence of A and U; it is where waking up and falling asleep meet. O is thus the moment either of falling asleep or of awaking. When the Oriental teacher wanted his pupils to be neither asleep nor awake, but to make for that boundary between sleeping and waking where so much can be experienced, he would direct them to speak the syllable OM. In this way he led them to the life that is between waking and sleeping.

For, anyone who keeps repeating continually the syllable OM will experience what it means to be between the condition of being awake and the condition of being asleep. A teaching like this comes from a time when the speech organism was still understood.

And now let us see how it was when a teacher in the Mysteries wanted to take his pupils further. He would say to himself: The O arises through the U wanting to go to the A and the A at the same time wanting to go to the U. So, after I have taught the pupil how to stand between sleeping and waking in the OM, if I want now to lead him on a step further, then instead of getting him to speak the 0 straight out, I must let the 0 arise in him through his speaking AOUM. Instead of OM, he is now to say AOUM. In this way the pupil creates the OM, brings it to being. He has reached a higher stage. OM with the O separated into A and U gives the required stillness to the more advanced pupil. Whereas the less advanced pupil has to be taken straight to the boundary condition between sleep and waking, the more advanced has to pass from A (falling asleep) to U (waking up), building the transition for himself. Being then between the two, he has within him the moment of experience that holds both.

If we are able to feel how such modes of instruction came about, we can have some idea of what it means to say that in olden times it was by way of art that man came to an instinctive apprehension of the nature of speech. For down into the time of the ancient Greeks, men still had knowledge of how every activity and experience had its place in the world, where it intrinsically belonged.

Think of the Greek gymnastics,—those marvellous gymnastics that were really a complete language in themselves! What are they? How did they evolve? To begin with, there was the realisation that the will lives in the limbs. And the very first thing the will does is to bring man into connection with the earth, so that a relationship of force develops between man's limbs and the earth, and you have: Running In running, man is in connection with the earth. If he now goes a little way into himself, and to the dynamics into which running brings him and the mechanics that establishes a balance between him and the earth's gravitation, adds an inner dynamic, then he goes over into: Leaping. For in leaping we have to develop a mechanics in the legs themselves.

And now suppose to this mechanics that has been developed in the legs, man adds a mechanics that is brought about, not this time merely by letting the earth be active and establishing a balance with it, but by coming also to a state of balance in the horizontal,—the balance already established being in the vertical. Then you have: Wrestling.


In Running, you have Man and Earth; in Leaping, Man and Earth, but with a variation in the part played by man; in Wrestling, Man and the other object.

If now you bring the object still more closely to man, if you give it into his hand, then you have: Throwing the Discus. Observe the progression in dynamics And if then to the dynamics of the heavy body (which is what you have in discus-throwing), you add also the dynamics of direction, you have: Throwing the Spear.


Such then are these five main exercises of Greek gymnastics; and they are perfectly adapted to the conditions of the cosmos. That was the feeling the Greeks had about a gymnastics that revealed the human being in his entirety.

But men had the very same feeling in those earlier times about the revelation of the human being in speech. Mankind has changed since then; consequently, the use and handling of speech has inevitably also changed.

In the Seventh Scene of my first Mystery Play, where Maria appears with Philia, Astrid and Luna, I have made a first attempt to use language entirely and purely in the way that is right for our time and civilisation. Thought, which is generally lifted out of speech, abstracted from it, is there brought down again into speech.

We will accordingly take tomorrow part of this scene for demonstration, and so make a beginning with the practical side of our work. Frau Dr. Steiner will read from the scene; and then, following on today’s introductory remarks, we will proceed with the First Part of the course—the study of the Forming of Speech.