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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

III. The Gestures: How They are Formed and Experienced

26 June 1924, Dornach

To-day it is my intention to describe those sounds which have not yet been considered. To begin with I shall take s and z, for the nature of these sounds is such that they may almost be said to be in a category by themselves. Later, as opportunity arises, I can deal with any of the sounds which up to now have been omitted.

S was always felt, at a time when such things had not yet been lost, as a sound penetrating specially deeply into the very essence of language. The experience of the s-sound is connected with the feelings and experiences which, in the earliest times of human evolution, were bound up with the symbol of the serpent, and also, from a certain point of view, with the symbol of the Staff of Mercury,—not with the symbol of Mercury itself, but with the symbol of the staff of Mercury. We must look for the Mercury symbol itself in the sound e. On the other hand the symbol of the staff of Mercury, which plays so great a part in certain Eastern writings, is very closely connected with the sound s; and the s-form which we still preserve to-day in our written letter reminds us strongly of the symbol of the serpent. The feeling lying behind the curved and sinuous line of s is really extraordinarily complicated, but primarily it may perhaps be said to consist of a peace-bringing element. Behind s there lies a power capable of bringing calm and peace into that which is in a state of unrest, and this force carries with it the feeling of certainty, the feeling of being able to penetrate into the hidden nature of some—: thing and in so doing to bring about a state of calmness and rest.

The S-symbol, and the z which is closely related to it, were always referred to in the Mysteries with great solemnity. Such things, as we saw yesterday when studying the sound t, Tao, were always spoken of with a fitting ceremony and reverence. S, on the other hand,—and here I am bound to express myself very inadequately,—s always produced an element of fear in, those who were being instructed in the nature of this symbol. There was a feeling of fear; it was felt as something before which one had to protect oneself, but which was nevertheless essential to life, something which could not be dispensed with. The s-symbol is so complicated that I cannot easily tell you how it was spoken of in the Mysteries. The most I can do is to try and describe it for you in other words.

People to-day would be astonished if they could know how entirely free from sentimentality the true pupils of the old Mysteries really were. They had a sense of humour and although none knew better than they how to pay reverence where reverence was due, they knew also how to clothe such things in humoristic form. Thus, when a pupil of the Mysteries was once asked by one not initiated about the nature of the sound s—(naturally such questions were often asked, for people of those earlier times were not without curiosity any more than they are now)—when this question was put, the pupil replied somewhat humorously: Well, you know, when one understands the secret of the s-sound, then one can perceive the hidden qualities in the hearts of men and one can fathom the hearts of women: such a one can bring calm to the restlessness of the human heart, and can at the same time penetrate into its hidden depths.—That was, as I said, a very exoteric explanation, but it nevertheless gives some indication of what lies in the sound s. S —a bringing of calm into that which is agitated, and the certainty that the means employed will have the desired effect.

When all that I have just described is carried over into gesture, then we get the eurhythmic movement for the sound s. We have still to consider the sound z, and the feeling, the experience, that it expresses. The movement for z is naturally somewhat similar to the movement for c (ts), but with more of an attack behind it. You will be able to feel for yourselves, if you try to do so with the necessary earnestness and enthusiasm, that this sound induces a certain feeling of gaiety, for the very reason that it is not heavy and can be taken lightly; it is, however, gay with a certain intention.

We ought now to have realized to some extent the meaning of most of the sounds, and to have reached a point at which it should be possible for each individual sound to call up in our souls a corresponding experience. I said earlier that these first lectures were to be in the nature of a recapitulation in order to establish a tradition which may be regarded as permanent. Now once again let us call up in our minds each separate sound in its eurhythmic significance.

It is above all things important that everything I have said about the nature of the various sounds should be experienced artistically as gesture.

There is one thing about which we must be quite clear: the human being is formed out of those cosmic elements which I have mentioned in connection with the sounds of speech. If you take all that we have connected with these sounds, you will get, roughly speaking, in a perfectly natural way, those impulses which lead the human being out of the pre-earthly existence into, earthly existence, and which guide him further until he reaches mature age, that is to say until about his thirty-fifth year.

This whole process, with the forces which separate one human being from another, which urge him forward and bring him to the point he finally reaches as an adult human being,—all this lies in the gestures expressing the sounds. That is why the Word, the spoken sound, must be felt as of such tremendous significance.

Now let us begin by referring once more to that quality, which is most intimately bound up with the human being, and which was described by the Greeks when they said that it was experienced by man when he was confronted by the riddles of existence, when they said that Philosophy, love of wisdom, could only proceed from a feeling of wonder and amazement. Let us think of this and remind ourselves that the human feeling of wonder is something purely human and belongs to those qualities which raise man above the level of the animal. And when we ask ourselves: What faculty is it in the human being which raises him above the level of the animal?—then we must say: It is the possibility, inherent in the human being, of influencing matter, of bringing movement into certain substances whereas the same substances impose upon the animal its definite form. Man must therefore be looked upon as a centre towards which certain forces gravitate and in which they are finally merged. There would be a sense of monotony in the idea that the origin of man, which should call up in him a feeling of wonder and awe, must be looked for as proceeding from one single point of the universe,—which is indeed the case with the plants and, the animals. That which calls up in man the feeling of wonder with regard to his own being can only be felt by him as coming from different directions of cosmic space. And we only understand ourselves as men, in our true human dignity when we begin to realize that the Gods are radiating their forces into us, from the surrounding cosmos.

Let us make some sort of diagram of the cosmic sphere (see drawing) showing how forces are streaming from the circumstances towards the centre, towards the earth (arrows).

We can only feel our own dignity as human beings on the earth when we understand how these forces are flowing into us from out of the different directions of the cosmos.

Make the eurhythmic movement for a. The fundamental nature of this movement lies in the fact that you reach out, as it were, with your hands and arms into two different directions of space. A does not really consist in making a free, swinging movement, but one has to imagine oneself as man coming from two different directions of cosmic space,—nay, more, as being created, differentiated, determined, as it were, by forces proceeding from these two directions. In the movement for a one reaches out towards these two directions, and it is this reaching out and grasping at something which is the essential feature of the a as such.

This feeling is inseparable from the true experience of a. The way in which one holds the arms is of no consequence; the point is that one should reach out into these two directions, at the same time stretching the muscles so that a certain tension is induced. One must have the feeling of going right out into these two directions. This feeling must be brought down into the muscles themselves, and the stretched movement of the arms must be made as soon as possible after the preceding sound. This is the a as such.

Thus the essential nature of the a-movement could be expressed somewhat as follows: O man, you have derived your being from two different points of universal space. You must stretch out your arms in order to lay hold of the forces streaming from these two directions, and in so doing you take into yourself that which gave you birth. You must feel how these forces are streaming through your arms, meeting together in your breast. This will give you a real experience of the sound a.

From this we see the nature of the eurhythmic movement for a. And taking all I have said into account, it will not be difficult to feel that in this movement we have embodied the sound a in its relationship to man.

We have already said that e may be explained somewhat in this way: Something has been done to me, but I hold myself erect and confront it.—What lies in this experience? In this experience we really have the polar opposite of the a-experience. Man feels a as coming to him from out of the cosmos. A totally different experience lies behind the e. With e we feel that something has happened, and the effects of this happening we experience in the eurhythmic movement. One can only experience the e when something has happened and one feels its effect. This experience is shown in the movement when one part of the organism is brought into direct contact with another part.

Now this cannot be done in very many ways. Man is differently built from the elephant, for instance, and is therefore not able to make his nose so long and flexible that with its tip he could touch his own back. Were he able to do this it would be a most excellent example of the movement for e. He cannot do it, however. And so the movement for e, as it occurs in our eurhythmy, can only be made by one limb actually touching the other, laying a certain emphasis on this contact. This at the same time expresses the feeling of confronting something and resisting it. The touching indicates the feeling that something has happened to one; the holding the position which must be in the nature of two crossed lines, corresponds to the feeling of resistance. With e one arm is laid upon the other; or one finger can be laid upon the other; or the possibility exists, if one is able to manage it, of so using the eyes that the direction of the gaze of one eye crosses the direction of the gaze of the other. Any movement, therefore, in which this experience of touching one part of the organism with another is really present, may be said to be the eurhythmic expression for the sound e. When, however, the gesture is held fast, thus showing that something has been done to one and one gathers one’s forces together in order to withstand it, then the complete experience is brought to visible expression. Just consider what an immense difference there is between the a and the e-sounds as these are expressed in the movements of eurhythmy.

The a-experience carries with it the necessity of a conscious stretching of the muscles. It is essential that you really feel this tension. The e-experience carries with it the necessity of resting one arm upon the other; and here the consciousness should mainly be centred at the point where the arms cross.

Thus it is not the stretching of the muscles which is the chief thing about the experience of the e-sound, but the resting, the pressing of one arm upon the other. Of course it is also possible to form the e by crossing the right leg over the left, at the same time pressing one against the other. In this way we experience the e, we feel the movement for e.

Now, in our modern civilization one may easily get the impression that the world is always ‘doing something’ to people, is always affecting them, for they usually sit with crossed legs, and by so doing are of course continually making the movement for e! This attitude betrays the fact that the great majority of people believe that the world has indeed done something to them and that they must stand up against it. It is in such ways as this that one may learn to understand the artistic nature of the movements.

When we now pass on to the movement for o, to the gesture for o, we shall feel what a world of experience is contained in this sound. A is the absolute expression of wonder and amazement. O expresses the feeling which we have when we, place ourselves in an intelligent relationship to something which at the same time calls forth our wonder. And indeed, if we are human beings in the true sense, everything which enters into our field of vision must call up in us a feeling of wonder. But o brings us into a more intimate relationship with our perceptions. So that the essential nature of o can be shown in eurhythmy when the human being does not only feel himself, but, going out from himself, feels some other being or object which he wishes to embrace.

You can most clearly get a picture of this when, out of love for another person, you put your arms around him. You get the absolutely natural movement for the sound o when, in embracing another person, the arms are rounded and bent, each taking on the form of a half-circle.

Thus, in the movement for a, we feel that we receive something. We reach out towards those regions of the cosmos from which man derives his being. In the e we have an indication of a direct experience. The human being experiences something coming from the outer world. In o we have the movement whereby the world experiences something through man himself, for in this movement man lays hold of something belonging to the outer world. You must try to make the movement for o in such a way that, from the very beginning, and right through to the very end, the arms are really rounded. The arms must be very flexible; they must really be rounded. This is the true movement for o. We have to feel the rounded form from the very beginning.

Now we come to that sound which makes a still more direct impression on man than does the sound e,—we come to that around which is the absolute expression of the assertion of self, that is to say the i-sound. I is self-assertion pure and simple, I have often drawn attention to the fact that in the every day speech of educated people we find the word ‘ich’ (I). In this word we have the feeling of self-assertion as expressed in the i, and to this is added a breath-sound (eh) whereby an indication is given that we, as human beings, live in the breathing. But in certain districts where the simple people speak in dialect things are not carried as far as this. Such people remain satisfied with plain, straight-forward self-assertion. For this reason, in the place where I was brought up, people said, for instance, not ‘ich’, but ‘i’. There it would have occurred to nobody to say ‘Ich haue dich durch’ (I will give you a jolly good thrashing);—this expression occurs to me because in the place where I grew up one heard it on all sides, and because, with certain people, it really sums up their conception of the ego:—in my birth-place people do not say ‘Ich haue dich durch’, but ‘I hau di durch’! Pure self-assertion! This is a real example of pure self-assertion. Now, as we know, with a, forces stream from two points of the circumference inwards; with i they stream from the centre outwards. With the i-sound we do not feel as if we are grasping at something, but we feel the stretching, we feel that the stream has its source in us, starting, as it were, from the heart and flowing through the arm, or through both arms, or through the: legs. We can also feel i with the eyes, when we consciously look more through one eye, leaving the other passive. This gives us a very definite feeling of i.

There is nothing of the a-character about i, but both the arms should as a rule be used in such a way that one is the continuation of the other, although of course we can also make use of one arm only. The chief thing to remember is that with i the main feeling must be that of stretching, whereas with a there is more the feeling of grasping at something. These nuances are of importance if we are to get the right inner attitude towards the individual sounds.

It is only when such shades of feeling are brought into the abounds of speech,—and indeed into the tones of music also, as I made clear in the course of lectures on tone-eurhythmy which I gave here recently,—it is only then that eurhythmy becomes truly artistic. The point is not so much, my dear friends, that you merely imitate the form, but that you inwardly experience the form; that is to say you must really get the feeling In both your arms that a is the taking hold of something which comes towards you, while you must feel i as a stretched movement, as a stretching out away from yourself.

Then again we have the u-sound about which I have already spoken. U is not the assertion of self; on the contrary, behind u there is the feeling of becoming smaller, of being chilled and stiffened with cold. There is the feeling of drawing back into, oneself, of holding fast to oneself. Whereas with the sound e the principal thing is that one limb touches another quite precisely, with u the principal feeling is one of holding back.

The u is most clearly expressed by holding the arms as near together as possible, but this need only be indicated. There need only be an indication of this pressing together of the arms. When we stand with our legs together, touching one another we are also expressing the sound u. And, as we have already, seen, all the movements can be made backwards as well as forwards.

Ei,—the ei-sound can best be felt—and this will also throw light on what I said yesterday—when one realizes that behind this sound there lies the same caressing, affectionate feeling that one has for a very little child: ei, ei,—it is as if one were stroking something, as if one were becoming intimate with something through one’s feeling. (Frau L....will show us a beautiful e-i.) Hold the body quite still; do not move the body in any way, but hold it quite still. You will notice at once that in this gesture there is expressed the feeling of becoming intimate with something, but you will notice at the same time that our manner of writing, the way in which (in the German language) we form the ei out of the e-i, does not naturally lie in the ei-sound itself. On the contrary the ei-sound must be felt as a unity. We enter into the nature of ei when we join together e and i, but in fact lies midway between the two, and the connection between them is not really organic. I shall speak later about the more subtle nuances of feeling lying in this sound.

Let us now proceed to the consonants, and let us try to feel the consonantal element as this comes to expression in movements. You will remember that I said: b is the sound which represents everything of an enveloping nature, it expresses the wrapping round of something and its corresponding movement is one of protection. Naturally the gesture as such does not express this fully; there must also be the actual experience of which the movement is the copy, is the imitation. (We ask Frau F... to show us the movement.) Now we have the true movement for b; let us hold it fast.

Thus we have the true movement for b, and in this movement we feel what really lies behind the position of each arm. Anyone experiencing what is contained in this movement might well say: I will picture to myself that I have something before me, something that I wish to take hold of,—let us say a little child. I will imagine that I have such a little child sitting before me and that I wish to take it up. I shall be able to do this most easily when I take hold of it so, drawing it to me with a protecting gesture (movement for b).—What then must one really feel here if one would have the true experience? One must really feel that one holds something—here, in the space enclosed by the arms. If at this juncture I may introduce a point of educational interest, I would say that the best way to make the sound b comprehensible to small children in the eurhythmy lesson is to take something or other and let the child clasp it in its arms. In this way you can teach the little child to understand that it should feel that its arms are the protecting shelter for the animal or object which it holds, and in this way it will learn fully to comprehend the nature of the b-movement.

All this is really essential to eurhythmy. The forms, the movements, must not be imitated in a purely abstract manner, but the corresponding experiences must be felt; the experience is inseparable from the movement.

Now, I told you yesterday that c (ts) is a specially interesting sound. C, as it were, raises matter into the realm of the spirit. I said that it contains within it a feeling of lightness; it indicates that matter can be conquered by spirit and raised to a higher level. Fundamentally speaking we may say that c can best be experienced when one observes a child who is learning to stand, to raise itself from the crawling to the upright position. One could wish always to connect this wonderful experience—(for it is indeed a wonderful experience)—with the sound c. In this sound one approaches very nearly to what takes place in the child when it lifts itself from the crawling into the upright position, c, c, c: this lightening process, this raising of matters by means of spirit,—how beautifully it is expressed here! Try to feel all this in the sound c; feel that it has a lightness that matter is raised up by means of spirit. You will most easily have the right feeling for the movement c when you imagine that in some inexplicable way something is lying on the surface of your arms and in making the movement you toss it upwards. When you have the feeling that something is lying on the surface of your arms, and that it flies up into the air when you make the movement for c, then you have something which can lead you to a more or less true experience of the c-movement.

D, as I told you, is a pointing downwards, or indeed a pointing in any direction: d; if one now adds to this sound the sound a, so that wonder is aroused by that towards which one points, then, one gets the word da.

Now imagine for a moment that we wished to express the nature of the Oriental teacher. The Oriental teacher—particularly the older Oriental teacher—is indeed quite different from the European teacher. To-day, in the case of the European one always has the feeling that his whole educational system is based on the idea of pumping his pupils, of drawing all manner of things out of them. He meddles with them. To-day people talk about the necessity of ‘developing’ the pupil, although this idle talk for the most part. When one hears these mode educators expounding their pedagogic theories, one gets the feeling that one is, to use an Austrian expression, a Zmirnskhauer (a ball of thread), and that one is being unwound. Indeed when education is spoken of to-day one feels as if one were being absolutely torn to pieces. One is driven, crammed, in short, there is no end to what is being done to those who are being educated. The European educator feels that he must make the human being into something utterly different from what he really is. If it were possible to carry out all that one hears talked about on all sides by those interested in the art of education, then the human being who finally emerged from the hand would indeed be a strange being! The attitude of Oriental towards the teacher is different. He feels that the teacher, the educator, is one who points things out to his pupils, who draws their attention to things and says: ‘Das ist das’ (That is that). The Oriental teacher leaves his pupils unmolested because he assumes that they develop out of their own being and may, therefore, safely be let alone. Things are only pointed out to them. For this reason the Oriental teacher is one who, whatever he is doing, always says, as it were, ‘da’; da-da—der Dada. And this is what he is called. The oriental teacher is called the ‘Dada’. It is his mission to point everything out: da-da!

Now looking at modern civilization,—which, from a certain point of view, is progressing in a way that I can only describe as opposite to Darwinism,—we see that humanity, having satisfactorily arrived at the theory of man’s descent from the ape, desires to return to the ape once more, thus progressing quite clearly in a contrary direction to Darwinism. The tendency is to return once again to the primitive, to the primeval. In consequence there has arisen a sort of ‘Dada-ism’. Some years ago, when I was in Berlin, I received a letter in which the writer signed himself ‘Der Ober-Dada’ (the Head Dada). This is a retrogression, a principle of imitation, such as is found in this inverse Darwinism, this returning once more to the ape. You see how it is; one just imitates. And so, in founding this sort of ‘Dada-ism’ in Europe one is really imitating the more primitive methods of the Oriental.

In the word ‘dada’, however, there does actually lie some expression of this educating gesture, of this drawing attention to something, pointing to something. (Frl. S.... will you show us the movement for d? Try to enter right into the nature of the d-sound.) What is really the nature of the d-sound? In it there lies the indicating movement. Thus you must have the feeling: There is something; there is some-thing else; d,—when you finally land on it.—For this reason you must carry out the movement in such a way that there is a certain harmony between the two arms. One arm must reach a definite point just a moment before the other. The arm that starts later, however, must follow on quickly as though being drawn by the arm which started earlier. The direction of the movement may be either towards the left or towards the right. It is very necessary to study these things in detail, and you must learn really to feel this indicating, this pointing towards something. But first, in order to express the d-sound successfully, you must accustom yourselves to this pointing; you must introduce this pointing. The hands must be held in this way; (pointing with the finger).

I told you yesterday that f is really Isis. In f there is the consciousness of being permeated with wisdom. When one first feels one’s own inner being and then experiences this inner being in the process of out-breathing, in the out-going breath stream,— f,—then one has the true f. Man experiences the wisdom of his own being, that is to say, of his own etheric body in the out-breathing process. This feeling must be present in the movement which represents the f-sound. (Frau P.... will you make an f.) This movement corresponds exactly to the movement which the utterance of the f-sound produces in the air as it is breathed outwards. You must make the movement: for f in such a way that there is a break in it; then only will you feel what I have indicated with regard to the nature of f. You must show that there is, as it were, a second attack in the sound. But do not make the movement so quickly; it must be gentler. That is the f. In the movement for f we have a very exact imitation of this conscious out-breathing process which is of such great significance.

Now I have already told you that in the l we have the sound, which actually forms something, the sound in which we feel the form-giving process with the tongue. l-l-l. In order to make this clear I took the word leim (putty) as an example; I pointed out the adhesive quality of this substance, its formative quality in the capacity it has for imitating form, in other words, the way in which it strives to represent the fundamental nature of the: l-sound. L was looked upon in the Mysteries as a sound possessing special magical qualities, for when one gives form to something it follows that one has power over it. And it was just this aspect of l, this quality of mastering something, of gaining power over something which, in the Mysteries, caused this sound to be looked upon as one containing demonic forces. All this must be embodied in the movement for l. And when added to this, you feel as if your arms are quite supple, flexible in themselves; when you feel that something takes place in the arms which is similar to the movement of your tongue when, you say l,—then you will experience l in the right way, and you will discover that there is something truly fascinating in this movement.

Then we have the sound m. I said yesterday that m signifies the understanding of something, the capacity for entering into something with intelligence. I told you that in the place where I was brought up it was customary to say mhn; hn, when one had heard something said and wished to emphasize the fact that one had understood it. Mhn; hn—we will discuss this further; it expresses the feeling of joy and satisfaction aroused by having understood something. And one really has the feeling of being absolutely devoured by the intelligence and understanding of the person to whom one is speaking when he says mhn. Hence, in the m of the sacred Indian word Aum, m, we have a marvellous expression of the understanding of the universe. Thus m may be said to signify the grasp of a thing: first there is the feeling of grasping something, then there is the penetration into it and lastly there follows the understanding of it. The position should be held for a moment so that this intelligent comprehension which comes about as a matter of course is shown by the movement. (The arms should be held slightly in front of the body.)

It would indeed be wonderful if this movement could also be taught to the elephant. The elephant could make a wonderful m by stretching its trunk outwards and then turning it under. One could not have a more perfect example of an m. An m carried out in this way would really be the best m one could possibly imagine. I mention all these things as they may help you really to experience the sounds.

The uneasy sort of feeling which one has when meeting a person with a nose like an eagle’s beak will not be unknown to you. You will realize that a nose of this type really is the unconscious expression of the m-movement. The nose takes on the form of m. People with such a nose often cause a certain embarrassment to their fellows, because they give the impression of an absolute understanding of those with whom they come in contact, and it is not always pleasant to feel that one is being so completely understood. We get this feeling with people having an eagle-like nose for the simple reason that such a nose is really the m-movement held fast and frozen into a set form.

But there is another kind of understanding, an understanding mingled with a feeling of repulsion, an understanding tinged with irony. Here one comprehends the matter in question, at the same time, however, revealing this attitude of mind: Why make such a fuss about it? Of course, it is absolutely obvious!—n. If you should happen to be in Berlin you could not fail to notice this. The impression that one has in Berlin is that people are not altogether pleased with one’s affairs, but that they understand them perfectly! They immediately put everything on one side: ne. Indeed, the people of Berlin, if they know you well, say precious little besides ne! They really have not much else to say. This expression gives some indication of the attitude of mind of those who have a tendency to despise anything and everything which they feel they can understand as a matter of course.

One feels at once, when seeing this movement: The thing is of no importance. I understand it perfectly. And the eurhythmist also must have this feeling. In order to get into the right mood for the n-movement, you should imagine that you are dealing with someone who is quite stupid, someone who in his conversation keeps laying great emphasis upon the most ordinary things. You want to make him realize that he really is too stupid, that you can understand the matter very quickly and wish to get away from the whole thing as soon as possible. That is the experience.

I have already told you that r is the sound which expresses the complete turning over of something; it is the expression of something which is not itself round, but which takes on a rounded form. One always has the feeling that this is difficult, to imitate, because the most natural way to make the movement for r would be to turn a complete somersault, and this, of course, we cannot do! Frl. S... will you show us the movement for r? That is a very strenuous r. It is one way of doing it. Now Frl. S.... will you show us another r? That is another way of doing it. So you see there are various ways of expressing the movement very beautifully; it is a turning, revolving movement, which takes place in the breath-process also, for there is indeed a rolling movement when the sound r is uttered.

Such, then, are the things which I believe may show you to some extent, and in an introductory way, how the feelings and experiences lying behind the gestures may through eurhythmy be carried over into plastic movements, into movements which really have form and shape.