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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

IX. Plastic Speech

4 July 1924, Dornach

My dear Friends,

To-day we will consider certain things bound up with the plastic element of speech, with a method of speaking which gradually leads over into the realm of art. When doing eurhythmy,—it is well to be clear on this point,—we can either do the movements standing still or accompanied by walking. We have already seen the significance of eurhythmic walking.

Walking is, fundamentally speaking, the expression of an impulse of will. When studying eurhythmy it is essential to understand the inner nature of all that is bound up with speech, and consequently with visible speech also. When taking a step we can clearly differentiate three separate phases 1. The lifting of the foot. 2. The carrying of the foot. 3. The placing of the foot. We must be quite conscious that this threefold movement represents a complete whole. First we have the raising of the foot. Then the foot remains for a moment in the air, it is carried; thus the second phase is the carrying of the foot. And finally, in the third phase, the foot is placed on the ground.

Naturally, when walking in ordinary life it is not necessary to bother about these details. In eurhythmy, however, everything must become conscious.

Thus we have:

1. The Lifting of the Foot.
2. The Carrying of the Foot,
3. The Placing of the Foot.

It is clear that much variety can be introduced by means of the different ways in which these three phases of walking are carried out.

If, in the first place, we take the lifting of the foot, we see that this clearly indicates the will impulse inherent in the action of walking: thus with the lifting of the foot we have to do with an impulse of will. When, on the other hand, we direct our attention to the carrying of the foot, we have to do with the thought element which lies behind every will activity.

In the first place then, we have to do with the will impulse as such. Secondly, with the lifting of the foot, we have to do with the thought which comes to expression in this will impulse. And in the placing of the foot the act of will is completed; here we have the deed.

1. The Lifting: Impulse of Will
2. The Carrying: Thought
3. The Placing: Deed

Now much variety can be brought into walking by making the middle phase of longer or shorter duration, also by actually making the step itself longer or shorter. Thus the laying stress upon the middle phase of the step mainly serves the purpose of emphasizing and bringing to expression the thought which lies behind the impulse of will; it gives form to this thought.

On the other hand, by the way in which the foot is placed upon the ground, you can always show whether you think the will impulse has achieved its goal, or whether it has faltered in its purpose. If you put your foot down uncertainly, as though walking on thin ice, your step will express uncertainty of purpose. If you put your foot down firmly, with the assurance that the ground will not give way under your feet, you will show that your goal is sure and certain.

Here, too, when working out a poem, you must analyse carefully and ask yourself whether the one mood or the other predominates. Of course such things as these only become really clear when they are practically applied. Now, however, we will pass on to other aspects of walking. And this brings us into the domain of rhythmic walking, into that poetic element which must enter into eurhythmy, into the movements and forms of eurhythmy.

It is indeed above all things important to realize consciously that, either through special emphasis, or through the longer and shorter syllables, rhythm must be brought into speech. And this rhythm must also make its appearance when expressing a poem in eurhythmy. For it would have been impossible to call this art of movement of which we are now speaking ‘Eurhythmy’, if we had not taken into account the element of rhythm.

This leads us over to a fact which must be considered if we are really to enter into the nature of speech eurhythmy,—a fact that is deeply impressed into all that is connected with the more artistic aspect of speech. We have within our modern civilization two types of language, prose and poetry. The further we go back in human evolution, the more we find that poetical language is really the only language, and that the human being when speaking has the longing to bring into his speech the element of poetry, the artistic element. Speech may really be said to lie midway between thinking and feeling. Thinking lies on the one side, feeling on the other. As human beings we have the inward experience of both thought and feeling. And when we express ourselves outwardly, when we try to bring something to external expression in speech, we really place speech midway between the two elements of thought and feeling.




In the earlier periods of evolution man had an inner life of feeling somewhat different from ours today. The man of earlier times always had the longing, when feeling something deeply, when experiencing feeling in his soul, also to experience words rising up within him,—words which were not so clear cut and definite as our words are today, but which were, nevertheless, of the nature of articulated tones. He was able, as it were, inwardly to hear that which he experienced as feeling.

The thinking of primitive man was also different from our thinking to-day; he really thought in words. These words, however, in which he thought were more definite than those in which he felt. Thus words resounded within him. His was not such an abstract thinking as ours to-day; and words also resounded within him when he experienced feeling. That absolutely inward feeling which we possess and which has no need of words was not present in his soul. Now when we consider how closely the primitive life of the soul was bound up with word-configuration, with tone-configuration, we shall realize that an inner recitation,—if I may so describe it,—lay, in those early times, behind the thinking and feeling of man, a recitation based upon the combined development of speech, thinking and feeling. And this inner recitation differentiated itself, becoming on the one side speech which retained its artistic element, and on the other side music, that which is purely musical, the wordless sounding of tones which depends for its effect upon pitch and so on. I dealt with this latter aspect in the course of lectures on tone-eurhythmy.1Eurythmie als sichtbarer Gesang. Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach.

But yet another differentiation took place,—the development of pure thought. And to-day I shall speak of the essential difference between these two types of language, between poetic language which must be given artistic shape and form, and prose language which depends entirely upon the intellectual content, and where there is no longer any necessity to give artistic form to the language as such.

During the course of the last few centuries, as materialistic thought developed—for the abstract thought of materialism is closely bound up with the prose element—the true feeling for the artistic shaping and forming of language was lost. And to-day we find any number of people having absolutely no feeling for the artistic, plastic element of language. They only regard language as a medium for the expression of thought, and are quite indifferent to the quality of the language through which this thought is expressed.

I should not enter into all these things so fully if they were not of the deepest significance for the understanding of eurhythmy. For, in speaking about eurhythmy, and taking the sounds as our starting point, we must enter at once into the realm of art. We must bring the inner soul-nature of the sounds to outward expression; we must, as it were, go back to a time in which man felt in the word itself all that he experienced in his soul as sound, to a time in which there really was a true language of sound. To-day there is no longer a true language of sound. We have instead an intellectualistic language which only serves to express concepts and thoughts. And this is the reason why to-day in recitation and declamation people no longer perceive the artistic, plastic element in language, the musical element, the form-giving element, but make the mistake of looking only for the meaning, of emphasizing the meaning, which is, of course, also present in prose.

It is essential for every eurhythmist to gain a true perception of the difference between poetic or artistic language and the language of prose. For the mere understanding, it is, of course, a matter of no importance as to whether the wording of an idea is beautiful or ugly, as to whether or no words create a noble impression. But for an artistic forming and shaping of speech it is just these shades of feeling and character which are so important. Arid this is why we must strive to gain an understanding of the artistic, plastic formation of language.

The first step towards this understanding is the development of an inner feeling for the Iambic and Trochaic rhythms. For the moment we will not bother as to whether we will express the Iambic measure by a strongly emphasized beat preceded by one less strongly emphasized, or whether we will show it by a long beat preceded by a short beat. I shall speak of these details—which really belong more to the essential difference between recitation and declaration—in a later lecture. We must feel to begin with the real significance of starting with an unemphasized syllable and following this by an emphasized syllable, and the way in which such a rhythm carries us forwards.

‘Auf Bergen flammen Feuer.’

Here we have an unemphasized syllable followed by an emphasized syllable. This is repeated three times, the fourth time being incomplete. We pass over from the quieter to that which has more movement, from the weaker to the stronger. This brings into walking a special characteristic, the characteristic of going towards something, the wish to reach something. And when we step to this rhythm we feel immediately that we enter into the inner element of the will. The Iambic element brings into speech the character of will,

Let us now take the opposite. Here the emphasized syllable occurs first, followed by the unemphasized syllable.

‘Trag mir Wasser herab,’

This is just the reverse of the previous example. We begin with the strong, important bear, and pass over to the weaker, less accented beat. If you move in such a rhythm and enter into its feeling, you will at once perceive that here one takes one’s start from something quite definite. And this feeling of something quite definite can only be present when you have a clear concept, a clear-cut thought. In this case you do not strive towards something, but you express in the rhythm your definite thoughts. Thus with the Trochaic rhythm we have to do with thinking. This thinking naturally manifests itself in action, but thought is really the dominant factor.

Will, striving, predominates in the Iambic measure; thought, the realization of thought in the Trochaic measure. You must not, of course, carry these indications to extremes. You might, for instance, picture this energetic Iambic rhythm as being expressed by a rapid progress downhill, and connect this progress with an activity of will. On the other hand you will be more inclined to connect the Trochaic rhythm with seeing or perception. As I said, you must not carry such things to extremes, but if you really enter into the nature of the different rhythms, you will find what I have said to be correct.

Now the point is to bring the Iambic and Trochaic rhythms into walking. This has, of course, already been practised. (Frl. S. . . . will you first show us the Iambic rhythm.)

And now, in order to illustrate the contrast, will you step to Trag mir Wasser herab’, strongly emphasizing the first beat. We must remember that with the unaccented beat we simply step, whereas with the accented beat the placing of the foot on the ground must be strongly marked. How must the foot be placed on the ground? The toes must touch the ground first, the other part of the foot following. It is quite time for eurhythmists to be able to do this really as it should be done. The ordinary threefold walking must be carried over into the rhythmic walking, that is to say, the toes must touch the ground first the rest of the foot following after. Eurhythmists must not simply trip along on their toes, but really place the whole foot on the ground.

Here are two examples.

Auf Bergen fiammen Feuer,
Trag mir Wasser herab.

I can easily show you, by taking a more complicated rhythm, that these things really are of importance. Instead of expressing the yearning, the will, the desire in such a way that we show that we are sure of instantly achieving or object, we can prolong the feeling of desire by having two short beats, followed by a long beat. In this way we get the Anapaestia rhythm


Now anyone who walks to a poem in Anapeestic rhythm, and compares this with the experience of Iambic walking will notice a tremendous difference between the two. Let us take the following as an example of the Anapaest:

Von mir bist du von Menschen gebildet.
u u—u u—u u—u

Here there is the feeling of reaching the accented syllable with more difficulty. This feeling of difficulty brings a more intimate character into language. And this intimacy of character brings with it a more spiritual element. Thus we may say that the Anapaest rhythm introduces into language a certain inwardness of feeling, a certain spirituality.

(Frl. S. . . . will you show us the Anapaest rhythm:)
Von mir bist du zum Menschen gebildet.

This is a perfectly clear Anapaest.

Now in eurhythmy the point is not so much that one hears the rhythm, but that one should be able to see it: for eurhythmy is visible speech. And for this it is necessary to accustom oneself clearly to show the emphasis on the strong beat, then the unaccented beat will take care of itself. And it may be said that one only enters into the sphere of eurhythmy when these rhythms are accompanied by an upward and downward movement of the body.

When we make the opposite rhythm, the Trochaic, a little more complicated, we get the Dactyl: long, short, short, long, short, short. Let us take the following as an example:

Sing mir, unsterbliche Seele, des sündigen Menschen Erlösung.
—u u—u u—u u—u u—u u—u

Try now to walk in the Dactyl rhythm and you will find that this has more the feeling of a statement, an assertion. If, however, you wish to show the true character of the Dactyl, you must not allow the body to have a forward tendency. In this rhythm the body must remain somewhat behind.

In the rhythms we have the time element; the time element is in this way brought to eurhythmic expression. And the possibilities of eurhythmy are so great just because the eurhythmist is able to make simultaneous use of both time and space. It is possible,—to some extent even with one eurhythmist, but with a group much more so,—to bring into eurhythmy all manner of variations of forms by means of symmetry, by the grouping of the people in some special form and by the symmetrical movement of the arms and legs. The solo eurhythmist also can create forms in space, but the effect of group forms is much more powerful. The possibilities of group forms are infinitely greater.

By means of such forms, by means of this working in space, one is able to enter into the poetic element of speech even more easily, more unhampered, than is possible in recitation and declamation. Truly, recitation and declamation must also work towards the inner artistic element inherent in speech, but here the difficulties are greater than in the case of eurhythmy.

The essential thing about prose language is that it enables one clearly to understand and grasp what one wishes to express by means of a word or sentence. At least one must believe one has grasped it. In prose language we have become so extreme in our desire for clarity that we make use of the so-called definition. There is really something appalling about definitions, for they make people believe that they have clearly expressed some idea, whereas in reality, the description is merely pedantic. If people are themselves not clear about the meaning of a word, definitions will be of no help to them. In any case a comprehensive definition, even of a relatively simple thing, would necessarily lead one into endless complications, otherwise the results would be similar to the story that I have so often repeated, in which somebody described the human being as a two-legged creature without feathers. On the following day this person was confronted with a goose and told that, according to his definition, the goose was a human being, for it had two legs and no feathers—(you see, it was a plucked goose !). Now a human being is not always a goose, so here the definition did not meet the case.

‘When using prose language, one should at least attempt to express one’s ideas directly, in clear outline. In prose one cannot—and need not—live in and experience the artistic formation of language. An artistic treatment of language demands imagination and fantasy; and here one should strive to use one’s gift of fantasy, to give rein to one’s imagination. This, however, can only be attained when one does not rest content with crude description, but when one develops an attitude of mind which allows imagination and fantasy to give form and life to whatever may be in question. If anyone were to say, for instance : ‘Here is a water lily’, he would be speaking prose. But if he were to say: ‘O flowering swan!’ this would be pictorial, poetical. One can quite well picture a water lily, with its white bloom rising out of the water, as a flowering swan.

The picture can also be reversed—and here I will quote from Geibel. The lines in which he describes the swan as a floating water lily are perhaps the most beautiful he has written:

O Wasserrose, du blühender Schwan,
O Schwan, du schwimmende Rose ...
(O water lily, thou flowering swan,
O swan, thou floating lily ...)

Even this can hardly be said to be an adequate picture, but at any rate it brings us much nearer to the truth.

Now how does this picture of the ‘flowering swan’ arise ?—The expression ‘flowering swan’ is only an image; it is not in accordance with reality. A picture must have this quality; it must make us feel that it goes beyond reality and give us an impression which transcends its own imagery. The fact that a swan is not a blossom makes the expression ‘flowering swan’ into a picture. It is when we feel that there is something suggestive about the picture that we are brought closer to the true nature of that which is being described.

The inner plastic element of language depends upon this possibility of imagery. And you, my dear friends, will be able to discover this pictorial element when you realize that a sound is, in itself, always a picture. A sound is no less a picture of what it describes than this expression of the ‘flowering swan’ is a picture of the water lily. For any combination of sounds depends upon what these sounds represent; a word is no abstraction but arises out of life itself.

Thus it may be said that the use of language is based upon the fact that every sound is a picture, an image. If then, we accustom ourselves to see pictures in sounds we shall learn by degrees to have a feeling for the use of these pictures,—we shall learn to know that poetic language, artistic, plastic language, must be pictorial in character.

Now, when I say: ‘O flowering swan’, when meaning a water lily, and : ‘O floating flower’, when meaning a swan, these two conceptions have really only one characteristic in common—their dazzling whiteness. Their other qualities are different.

It is not difficult to form such pictures as these. They generally go by the name of metaphor. A metaphor is, in reality, a picture which makes use of some common characteristic in order to establish a relationship between two conceptions. In such a case one portrays one thing by describing it as something else which is not the thing to which one is really referring, but has certain characteristics in common with it. Metaphor arises in this way.

I am purposely not giving the usual definition of the metaphor, for this definition has nothing artistic about it, My description is not based upon logic, but I have tried to build it up from what is really essential.

Let us go a little further, It is possible, by making use of a word which represents something less comprehensive, to express something really wider in its meaning. For instance, one can mean ‘beasts of prey’, but if one wishes to be more pictorial, instead of actually using this expression one might equally well say : ‘the lions’. When, in using the word ‘lion’, one really intends to convey the meaning of ‘beasts of prey’, language becomes pictorial. We must be clear that in such a case the lesser is used to describe the greater. We wish to give the impression of ‘what is more comprehensive, but in order to do so we use a word which expresses something more limited. This pictorial means of expression is very general. It is called the Synecdoche. In the Synecdoche we have a picture in which one makes use of the lesser to express the greater.

The reverse is also possible; it is possible to make use of the greater to express the lesser. A particularly strong impression is created by this means. For instance we have Byron’s picturesque expression to describe the attitude of a lady who is something of a shrew, He says : ‘ She looks curtain-lectures (Sic blickt Gardinenpredigten). Here you have a comprehensive element which can otherwise only be verbally indicated by such expressions as ‘curtain-lectures’ and so on, applied to the narrower sphere of the lady’s look, It is a wonderfully effective figure of speech, when the facial expression of the worst kind of Xanthippe is characterised by applying to her look the entire series of curtain-lectures, with all the abuse and scolding and outcry they involve, In this case the whole is used for the part.

We must find a means of expressing these things in eurhythmy. First let us try a quite simple example. Wherever a metaphor occurs it may be shown by taking a step sideways,—either towards the right or towards the left. Wherever you have to do with anything in the nature of a metaphor you may introduce this sideways movement into the form.

If you wish to express the Synecdoche in a case where the greater is used to express the lesser, you must go backwards if, on the other hand, you use the lesser to express the greater you must go forwards. This lies in the form. Therefore you will always express She looks curtain-lectures by moving in a backwards direction; you will, however) move forwards when, meaning ‘beasts of prey’, you simply use the word ‘lion’. If therefore in eurhythmy you move backwards in space you immediately give the impression of an intensification, of going from the lesser to the greater; when you move forwards the opposite impression is created.

In order to illustrate this, try to express by means of the direction in which you move, the following sentence:

I strive towards the heavenly powers

(moving backwards)

And now I shall immediately take another example, so that you may see the difference between the two:

I shut myself within my little room

(moving forwards)

You must express these examples simply by means of the direction in which you move. With the first, which indicates a striving towards the greater, you must go backwards, With the second : ‘I shut myself within my little room,’ you must go forwards. In this way we have the possibility of expressing, by means of a forwards and backwards movement, all the inner shades of feeling contained in these things.

What I have here indicated is of the utmost importance for eurhythmy as an art. For only by understanding the meaning of this walking in a forwards, backwards or sideways direction, does one learn to move on the stage in the right way. Without such understanding one might quite well try to express something of the nature of a prayer by means of a forwards-moving line, which would be utterly out of place, for in the case of a prayer or a petition the backwards-moving one at once gives the right feeling. When expressing the wish to teach something, thus entering into the realm of thought, one will not go backwards, but forwards in the form.

In the case of a conversation, the movement is neither backwards nor forwards, but sideways ; for conversation is really of the nature of metaphor.

To-day I have indicated several things which, as they are further developed, will serve to make speech eurhythmy more complete and worthy of being called an art in the true sense.