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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

IV. The Individual Sounds and Their Combination into Words

27 June 1924, Dornach

I think that in yesterday’s lecture we reached the point at which we were considering the sound r, and I had previously unfolded before you the inner nature of most of the other sounds.

It is important above all that we should learn to understand the s-sound. S as we learned yesterday, was always looked upon in the Mysteries as a sound of the very highest importance. Indeed, it was looked upon as possessing magical qualities; for it can be felt as a sound which brings with it surety and certainty, a feeling of calm, a quietening element. This is induced by the fact that, with the impulse lying behind the sound s one can penetrate into the inmost nature of another being.

For this reason I said that when a pupil of the old Mysteries was asked by someone from the outer world what he had learned through the s-sound, he answered, as was customary at that time, in a somewhat humorous vein, and said: He who is master of the s-sound can see into the souls of men and into the hearts of women. There can be no question that in both cases this insight entails the necessity of bringing about a feeling of calm. And this led quite naturally to the more or less humorous use of a sentence such as the one I have described.

Now if in the f-sound we have the feeling: Wisdom lives in me, wisdom created me, I breathe out wisdom, wisdom is ever present within me, — then behind the s-sound we may say that there lies a slight element of fear, something before which we feel that we must protect ourselves. This is why in those ancient scripts, — in which, as I have already told you the s, or the snake-like curved line is to be found in the various letters, — writing was felt to be something uncanny, something which threw light into hidden depths. And to-day — using this word ‘to-day’ in the sense of an historical epoch — certain peoples still exist (though naturally very few) who, unaccustomed as they are to the art of writing, regard the written characters as being distinctly uncanny. When the Europeans, these ‘superior people’ of civilization, went to the North American Indians, the North American Indians found much that to them was unpleasant in the ways of these ‘superior people’, and the written characters were among those things which produced in them such an unpleasant sensation. They made it quite clear that in their opinion these ‘Pale Face’, as they called them, these strange, foreign ‘Pale Face’ conjured ‘little demons’ on to the paper. And as late as the nineteenth century there were certain Indian tribes who still regarded the printed letters as being the embodiment of little demons.

Let us consider these two sounds, these two letters, the f and, the s. They must be formed in eurhythmy in such a way that the onlooker can perceive a tremendous difference between them. When the movement for f is made, it must express the quiet sense of power over that which has been conjured up in the world by its means. The movement is created out of an element of peace. The hands must bend over a little towards the arm, but in an active manner.

They must not hang passively, but must be held as if covering something and protecting it.

Now s. You see in the s-sound how something is, as it were, moved out of its course with a sense of mastery. (The movement was demonstrated.) The cause of this feeling really lies in the relationship which arises between the two arms as a result of the movement.

Now let us pass on to sch. One could hardly fail to recognize the blowing past, the blowing away of something, as this is expressed in the sound sch. I made this quite clear to you when, I gave as an example the feeling lying behind the word husch-husch: the breeze wafts by and passes away: husch-husch.

But everywhere in words of an interjectional character you will observe how this sch sound conveys this feeling of blowing past. There are indeed many words which in this connection, are extraordinarily characteristic.

You must now consider the deep significance of something which I have already spoken about during these days, I mean the fact that in different languages things are called by different names. The reason for this is that the different languages are really describing different things. For instance, when in German, I say the word kopf, this indicates the form, the plastic form of the head; when, on the other hand the word testa is used in Italian it signifies what takes place by means of the head, it signifies a process of corroboration, of affirmation. Thus the two languages are describing completely different things. That which is called kopf in German would also be called kopf in Italian, if the Italian wished to express the same idea.

In this way languages differ very much from each other. When we take the German language we find that it is of a plastic nature. The genius of the German language is really a sculptor. This must not be overlooked. The peculiar characteristic of the German language is that it is plastic: the genius of the language is a sculptor.

The genius of the Latin language has, on the other hand, something of the lawyer about it, something of the advocate, of one who affirms, confirms, testifies.

This is in no way intended as a criticism, but merely as a description of certain characteristics. Each language contains within it the temperament and character of its genius. One may actually carry this so far as to say that when one hears Hungarian, Magyar or Finnish spoken, one cannot fail to have the feeling that something is really lacking. It is impossible to listen to the Magyar language without feeling that after every third word something is lacking. When the Hungarian or Magyar language is spoken one feels that after every third word a stag should be slain. The reason for this is that the genius of the Hungarian language is a hunter. In the Magyar language all words which have not arisen out of the activity of the hunt are in reality borrowed. The Magyar language has absorbed many such words, and when one arrives in Budapest one finds at once among the names written up in the streets such strange words as, for example: Kavehdz. (From the German: Kaffeehaus: Cafe). Such words as these have not, of course, the characteristic I have described; the Magyar language has adopted many such borrowed words. But when one listens to the Magyar language, it is certainly imbued with the element of the hunt, of the chase. Naturally there is nothing bad about this; the tiller of the soil, the hunter and the shepherd are invariably the source from which the whole human race has arisen. There still lives a primeval force in such a language as that of the Magyars. And the genius of the Magyar language is undoubtedly a hunter, or, if ye will, a huntress, Diana.

So we can say, in the German language we have the plastic formative element; that is a feature which is very much in evidence. For this reason we find many interjections, which are uncommonly characteristic. Well, it does not even need to be a snake,— even if a restless, agitated mouse is hidden under some leaves, we have already something moving and rolling about, and it gives us an uneasy sensation, we are astonished: r-a — now it scampers away: sch. The feeling of astonishment is not all, however; something is done to us, but we bear up under it: e. Now whatever is moving in this way clings to its surroundings, it adapts itself to them, burrows its way through; where there is a hollow space it makes its way through, creeping now lower, now higher: l. And when it emerges, then we understand what it was all about: n. rascheln (to rustle). Here you have the whole story of rascheln in plastic form.

The remarkable feature of the German language is that one can find in it so much that really corresponds to plastic art that really makes up the plastic element of language. Hence: it is perhaps not without significance that eurhythmy, in the first instance, could most easily arise within the German language, for eurhythmy may be said to be sculpture brought into the realm of movement, and it is from out of the German language that this living sculpture can be most easily developed at the present day. In ancient times all languages possessed a living, plastic element. It is true that other languages are more musical in their nature, as is the case, for instance, with the Magyar language. The German language cannot be said to be musical, but for this very reason the plastic element is all the stronger.

And it is just in this word rascheln, as also in the ‘husch- husch’, that we have the blowing away, the blowing past, the scattering of something.

The Hebrew man of ancient times experienced in the sch the presence of Jehovah in the blowing of the wind: sch.: Naturally this also may be felt as lying behind the plastic, eurhythmic movement for the sound sch. The movement must be rapid, then it has the true ‘rustling’ effect, (rascheln), and really gives the feeling that is expressed in the word. It is no; exaggeration to say that one actually hears the rustling in the form of the movement.

Yesterday I spoke to you also about the way in which the sound z is to be understood. I said then that there is a certain lightness in the experience of s. And this experience, together with its plastic, eurhythmic expression, is derived from this feeling of lightness, from something which is essentially light. Thus, when we turn our attention to z, we shall regard it in much the same way as one might do a child, who, having lost a new toy which has been bought for it, cries and is inconsolable. One would not wish to scold the child, but to comfort it. Let us suppose that it is not the mother or the father who is dealing with the child, but an aunt or grandmother, whose manner towards the child (who has been up to some mischief) is aunt-like, or grandmotherly. The gesture, especially with the right hand, suggests: Never mind, little one.... It would be quite good if we were to bear this little story in mind. You must feel the z more especially in the arm; not in the wrist, but in the downward movement of the arm.

Up to now, my dear friends, we have mainly considered the nature of the individual sounds as such. At this point it will be necessary for us to discover the right way of expressing the connection between the sounds; and in order to lead over gradually into this somewhat different sphere, I shall from time to time take the opportunity of making certain observations. As occasion offers I shall deviate from the purely artistic side of eurhythmy and refer to educational, and also to curative eurhythmy. Thus, when I pass over to educational eurhythmy, you will see how this aspect of eurhythmy must be derived from the inner nature of the sounds as we have studied them in these lectures. It is quite obvious that in the beginning, when teaching the movements, one should as far as possible choose words expressing a definite mood or feeling. So that one enters into the spirit of eurhythmy by means of the feeling contained in the sounds, and by this means we are able to conjure up a right attitude towards eurhythmy, a realization that eurhythmy is a language, a language which may indeed be understood if only approached without prejudice. Now everything is contained for us in this word rascheln, if you make the movement as clearly as possible, and with great precision; only you must never lose sight of the fact that it is not the external process only which is of importance, but that the movements must be permeated by feeling. When this word is shown now in eurhythmy I shall be able to tell you what is really contained within it just at one particular point, — and then you will indeed perceive what is hidden in this word... ! (The word was demonstrated.) Now, for instance, the person who has been disturbed by the rustling pokes his nose in the direction from which it comes!

So you see, when we take into account the subjective element of feeling, we find that absolutely everything is contained in eurhythmy.

We will now take another very characteristic word. You will remember my description of the sound c (ts); k is similar, but stronger. In the sound k we have matter governed, mastered by spirit. Suppose for a moment that you are confronted by a regular termagant, by somebody who appears all physical strength and of whom you are somewhat afraid. It is not easy to deal with such a person; but, although you have to brace yourself against his behaviour, you, nevertheless, wish to get rid of him, — as it were to ‘blow him away’. You say to him then, But in eurhythmy, kusch. In this word you have every possibility of feeling these things; there is the repulsing of the person in question, the feeling of gathering one’s self together in order to confront him, but there is also the mastery over him. In practising the word do it in such a way that you have a very clear sch at the end. For the pacifying element in the word kusch lies in the fact that one intends to get rid of something.

Now, in teaching eurhythmy, it is important to choose those words in which one can on the one side still feel the plastic formation of the sounds, and on the other side the inner life that is thereby developed.

Now these sounds make up in themselves the separate elementary parts of eurhythmy as a whole. From these parts words are then put together. When in a word, let us say for instance, the word rascheln, you simply make the sounds in an intellectual manner one after another, the result will not be a word in the true sense. It is an undeniable fact that a word is much more of a complete whole than one usually thinks. If this were not so, we, as speaking human beings, could never have become so dried up and lifeless as we unfortunately are. When we read aloud, we do not read the individual sounds quite distinctly; we glide over the whole word and only touch lightly upon the single sounds. The one sound passes over into the other; and in ordinary speech also, the one sound passes over into the next. In eurhythmy, therefore, we must not only pay particular attention to the forming of the single sounds, but above all to the movement which expresses the transition from sound to sound. A word can only become beautiful in eurhythmy if one succeeds in obtaining a natural transition from one sound to the next.

And so it becomes necessary to turn our attention to the way in which one sound proceeds out of the other. One should try to discover how this takes place, and for this reason it is good to take characteristic words, which occur very often; practising them, not so much from the point of view of the individual sounds, but as a whole.

Take, for instance, the word und (and,) the simple word und and try to show it in one continuous, unbroken movement. Try, before you have quite finished the u-sound, to begin the n. This lends itself very well to eurhythmy. Before the movement for u is really completed, let it pass over into n: u-n , — and from this immediately make the transition into the d: und.

From a study of eurhythmy it is really possible to discover the inner intentions of the genius of language. I told you that d is the indicating movement. This is shown dearly in eurhythmy. Now how does the word und end? It ends with d, with the indicating movement. What purpose does the word und really serve? We say, for instance, ‘sun and moon’, There is the sun. We turn from the sun to the moon, indicating the moon by means of the ‘and’. Thus through eurhythmy one is able to rediscover the primeval gestures underlying speech. All this must be felt and experienced.

Bearing this in mind, let us take a word that even in the German language has long lost its plastic form, which, however, it once possessed to a very high degree. When I say ‘once’, that does not mean centuries ago; I refer to a not so very distant past. At that time this word had a plastic form. It is true that the word as we now know it is comparatively modern, but as it emerged from the dialect it still had its plastic character. And as dialect it still retains this character to-day. As I said before we must not allow our feeling for such things to be disturbed by a philology which in its own place is fully justified. Let us take this German word Mensch (human being), and let us express it in eurhythmy, somewhat shortening the final sch-sound: Mensch. Here we have a distinct feeling of the blowing past at the end of the word.

How do the eurhythmy movements for this word acct us? They give us the impression of the transience of human life; they give us a picture of the fleeting nature of man. Carrying this somewhat farther, we are shown the insignificance of the human being; this is what the eurhythmic gestures say to us when showing the word Mensch as a whole.

Now in dialect the word Mensch signifies a woman of completely trivial character. The word is not used in any bad sense, but simply indicates a woman who is quite uninteresting: das Mensch. Here the element of insignificance is strongly emphasized, and the tragic conception which one has regarding der Mensch is carried further and coloured with contempt when one says: das Mensch.

Thus in the plastic gestures and movements of eurhythmy we have the possibility of learning to feel deeply the meaning and true nature of words.

There is one thing, however, about which we must be perfectly clear. Eurhythmy, by means of the sounds which make up the different words, necessarily leads us into the inner nature of that to which the sounds themselves refer. When you see words for apparently the same thing shown in eurhythmy, you will nevertheless perceive, by the character of the movements, the difference in the character of the words. Will Frl. B.... and Frl. W.... now stand side by side, and we will ask Frl. B.... first to show the word kopf, and afterwards Frl. W.... will show testa. Now with the word kopf you have the feeling that the eurhythmist wishes to form something round, wishes to be a sculptor. The eurhythmist who is showing the word testa is determined to be in the right! In this way you see visibly expressed the essential characteristics of any particular word.

These things must be borne in mind. Then you will discover how, through eurhythmy, the character of the different languages is revealed in a most subtle and marvellous way. You can feel how the character of the different languages rises up, as it were, before your very eyes.

In order that this may be more fully illustrated, let us now see a German, an English, a French, and possibly also a Hungarian and a Russian poem interpreted in eurhythmy; in such a way, moreover, that by emphasizing as far as possible all: the sounds, the character of the poem in question is clearly shown. (The poems were then demonstrated by representatives of the different nations.) You will at once perceive how, for instance, the English language reveals its connection with the waves of the sea. And the mastery of the waves, which lies so strongly in the English language, comes out extraordinarily clearly in eurhythmy.

In the Magyar language, the feeling, the mood which is brought to expression is that the Magyar can only picture himself, as being planted firmly on the earth, and having to force his way through thicket and forest. This, too, you can see in the interpretation of the Magyar poem.

Russian, again, is a language which is merely suggestive, which only gives a faint indication of the inner nature of the word. It is a language which has not yet found its true being, but is following the tracks leading it towards this being, and is pointing on all sides towards the future.

And now I should like you to compare two things which will give you an insight into the marked way in which this difference of character reveals itself. One must learn to feel this, otherwise one cannot find one’s way into the nature of eurhythmy. A purely theoretical, intellectual explanation will not suffice; we must be led to a true feeling and understanding of what eurhythmy really is. Let us then compare the eurhythmic interpretation of a Russian poem with that of a French poem. Try to realize the great contrast between the two. (The Russian poem was here demonstrated.) Now with the Russian poem you see how one follows on the tracks of the word, and try now with the other poem, the French poem, to observe how there is, as it were, a tripping away from the word. (The French poem was then demonstrated.) Here there is the feeling of always being in front of the word. You see these two languages may really be compared to day and night, to the opposite poles, their characteristics are so different.

When you consider all these things, which are really quite apparent, you will feel bound to say: In eurhythmy there is the possibility of bringing clearly to expression the living spirit which is embodied in language, and above all the character of the language. For this reason eurhythmy is particularly well fitted to express all that lies behind language. And one must, of course, be able to express what lies behind language.

Let us now pass on to a quite concrete point.

Suppose we wished to show in eurhythmy a strong feeling of affirmation.

A young man leaves his parents’ house. They declare, as he bids them farewell, that he will come back again: You will come back to us again, says the father. Try now to express in eurhythmy this phrase: You will come back to me again, — and in doing so show clearly the feeling of affirmation. How do we express this? By a step; When we wish to affirm something we take a step forwards (towards the right) and in this step there must be the feeling, as it were, of the i-sound, of assertion. Thus affirmation is expressed by a movement of the fact from the back forwards.

Negation,— let us suppose that somebody tells a child he is not to do something: You must never do that again.... you wish to emphasize this feeling of negation, you must do so by taking a step backwards (towards the left). These things are, of course, quite elementary.

Thus we can pass over from what is revealed as to the nature of the single word to the inner logic which is contained in language. And in this way the character of the language becomes still more evident. If one considers the single sound as such, when expressing a poem in eurhythmy in any language, then the character of the language is emphasized. When, on the other hand, we take into consideration things which we shall be studying presently, when we pass over to logic as it is express in language, then more emphasis is laid on the character of the people.

Let us pass over now to this logic of language, and to begin with take the feeling of wonder. When a passage occurs in which the feeling of wonder is expressed, you will make the movement for wonder (movement for a) and you must merge the movement in to the other sounds, so that both mood and sounds are shown. Much study is required before one succeeds in expressing the succession of sounds, together with the indication of the logic of language, of the emotional content.— Ach wie schön (O how beautiful)! — Try here to put the two things together, the movement for wonder and the sounds contained in the words: ‘Ach wie schön!1According to feeling and mood other vowels might of course also be chosen to add colour to the whole; these would likewise have to be blended in with the actual succession of sound.

The movement expressing wonder must be united with the actual single sounds; wonder must lie in the formation of the sound.

To-morrow we will analyse other similar movements.