by Marie Steiner
Authorised translation from ‘Das Goetheanum,’ 7th March, 1926, by kind permission of Frau Marie Steiner.
Speech reveals to man his divine nature; the sounds of speech are creative forces which unite him with his spiritual origin and enable him, once again, to find the path leading to the spirit. Speech raises the human being above the level of the animal; it leads him back to the Divine within his Ego. That spark from the Divine Ego, which, issuing forth, prepared itself to become man, had of necessity, as it traveled the path leading into the material world, to unite itself with the forces of destruction. When the densifying process worked too strongly, damming up the spirit, as it were, then the form could be cast off by the ever-recurring forces of death and change. Thus there arose the animal kingdom, which may be likened to a kind of extended alphabet, containing within it all that burdened man too heavily when he carried it compressed within the limits of his own being. In man it was able to be so far clarified that it could develop into the Word, into Speech. Sound, tone in the animal kingdom cannot rise to the level of speech. It remains mere noise in the case of cold-blooded animals, and, in the case of warm-blooded animals, inarticulate sound. Even in its most beautiful form, in the song of the birds, cosmic tone cannot fully reveal itself; the song of the birds is at most only its faintest echo. It is in speech that the individual force of the Ego first finds expression through tone and becomes aware of its own being. Through speech, cosmic forces can, as it were, focus themselves in an individual Ego and from out this Ego work creatively once more.
When man raises himself to the upright position, when he changes from the horizontal position natural to the animal to the vertical position of the human being, he frees in himself the forces of speech. The child is overshadowed by these forces; as his individuality develops he becomes more and more strongly united with them. The child does not say ‘ I ’ of himself so long as his utterance is mere incoherent babbling. In personal desire, in egoism, the lower ego in the first place struggles through, expressing itself in wishes and desires, afterwards working its way through to feeling and thence into thought. Thought enters into the human being through the gate of speech. Pictures, imaginations are in this way raised up into the consciousness. Through this interplay of processes man becomes a thinking being.
A ray from the spiritual essence of the Sun enters into the human being through the mind. In the German language there is a reflection of this in the words ‘Sonne’ (Sun) and ‘Sinn’ (Mind), where the all-embracing, all-enclosing vowel sound ‘O’ is transformed into an arrow of light in the vowel sound ‘E’ (ee).
The knowledge acquired through sense-perception forms a path which leads man back to the spirit. However far he may have strayed from the true path in his striving to comprehend his own being, however far he may have been hurled from his primaeval spirituality, one thing remains to him, binding him to the spiritual world: Speech. However much he may have cut himself off from the universal All in order to dive down into matter and cover himself with the mask of personality, however much he may deceive himself into the belief that he is the Lord of Nature, no artificial language which has ever been invented, no Esperanto or ‘Volapuk,’ can afford him proof that he is able to create for himself a true language. He can only experiment with the elements of language already existent. If he penetrates deeply into the nature of this mystery he is able to find his way back to the spiritual world. For this reason — because speech is a divine creative force — it is so inexpressibly painful, so hopelessly inartistic, when in our modern tasteless age people try mechanically to construct dead, wooden words, with no spirit left in them, out of the initial letters of certain word-complexes. Such words effect us like the rattling bones of a skeleton. Even the clipping of the final syllables of words, so common in these days of dried up and lifeless speech, hurts like the sight of an amputated limb. And how much more so when, in a language still retaining the vitality of youth, a language which has not yet reached its maturity, the devil plays havoc by creating word-monstrosities, tossed together for the most part from the broken-off first syllables of different foreign words, — as is now actually being done in Soviet Russia. Satan himself seems to mock at us from out of these atrocities of language; he points them at us like a poisoned spear. A people whose soul has been so pierced may be likened to the suffering Amfortas, who needs must endure his agony until his deliverer approaches, bearing the spear of healing and salvation. Parsifal bore this spear of deliverance, which has been stolen away by Klingsor, back to the Castle of the Grail. The forces of evil are besieging the power of the World and threaten to destroy it. In Rudolf Steiner we see the deliverer, who gives back to us the redeeming, magical power of the Word, healing our wounds by casting the radiant Sun-Spear into the very Word itself.
When will the day dawn that will give back to us again the understanding for the magical and healing forces of the word, for the waves of the spirit that surge beneath the word and seek an outlet through it? To live consciously in the breath, to give form to the breath, to use the breath as a chisel and with it give plastic form to the air, to feel the quivering, subtle vibrations of air and ether, to experience the overtones and the undertones, the delicate intervals within the diphthongs, through which filters the stream of the spirit — here is an artistic activity indeed, working creatively in the finest of substances. Here is a nobler task than that forced outpouring of emotion in sounds tending to become animal-like in their nature, such as we find only too frequently on the modern stage. But so long as there is no discrimination between spirituality and empty pathos, the way is barred to the redemption of art and all that is highest in man through the word. These things, subtle and impalpable though they be, must nevertheless be raised up into the consciousness.
If the German is to fulfil his appointed task in the world he has no choice but to raise up into Ego-consciousness also in the sphere of Art that which other peoples have been able to accomplish instinctively. When German actors began to imitate the traditions of the French style, with all its elegance and distinction, their acting gradually became pathetically void of content. And when they associated themselves with the realism of the present day, it came about that, through their very thoroughness, they gradually descended to the sub-human, — first to the animal, then to the gramophone. Through the illumination of the consciousness there arises within us the knowledge of the fundamental laws of speech, which up to now have remained hidden and unknown; and with the knowledge the power to apply these laws, so that — given the necessary talent — the possibility arises of overcoming false emotion and of allowing real spirituality to take its place. There must be absolute truth, not mere imitation of the incidental and superficial; there must be the truth which comprehends the undercurrent of Being upon whose surface all that is incidental can make but the merest ripple, and which flows in an artistic ‘line,’ that must never be interrupted, never allowed to deviate in its aim, in the stream of its movement: For speech is movement, in continual flux and flow, borne on the waves of an inner music, painted in magic colours, and chiseled with fine precision.
If we look upon speech merely as a means of making ourselves intelligible, merely as the garment of intellectualistic thought, we kill it as an Art. We tear it limb from limb when we simply adapt it to our intellect, instead of allowing our intellect to be illuminated by its light. When speech is thus intellectually conceived the stream of its sound flows grey and lifeless, instead of glowing with a many-coloured, jeweled radiance. The rhythm of speech, its melody, its sculptured outlines, its architectural impulse, the strength or the calm of its metrical beat, the dignity of its cadence, the curve that welds all these together and parts them asunder, and throws them again into a whirling vortex, — till the movement sweeps onward to a Dionysian revel or flows bright and crystal-clear in Apollonian dance ... a dead world this for most of our contemporaries, life and riches for those who possess its key.
This key has been given to us by Rudolf Steiner in his lectures on ‘Speech and Dramatic Art,’ which are now published. Will humanity recognise the Spirit-King who gives back life to the beautiful lily? Or will the mocking face of the satyr bar the way? Yet even the satyr turns at last from evil ways and challenges in the figure of Marsyas the lyre of Apollo. Let us, then, seek once more, in full consciousness, for this path of knowledge which flowed in the very life-blood of the Greeks, imparted to them by the forces of the etheric body; let us open up this path once more to humanity, so that this priceless treasure may be made available to all as a wealth of knowledge and as a well-spring of regenerating life.
And let us not fear the cold word: Consciousness. Consciousness is not the destroyer of Art. On the contrary, consciousness deepens Art, for it raises it up into the sphere of the Ego and frees it from the fetters of the mask-like personality. We need only direct our conscious perception towards the force which, seizing us as with arms of fire, lifts us up beyond that lower realm. In the fire of this experience something comes to pass, a form is created, but the form is fleeting and dissolves. If we are to hold it fast, to make it a lasting possession, we must gain a clear understanding of what it is that happens; we must observe it closely, then, detaching ourselves from it, learn really to know it. Having learned to know it we win it back anew, for it conies towards us as something having free, independent existence, as something which has attained an objective life of its own. Now it is filled with the treasures of those objective worlds, compared with which our own subjective life is but a poor and shrunken realm.
Monotonous indeed seems this subjective life of the soul to one whose ears are opened to the boundless harmonies of the objective worlds, with their vivid wealth of tone-colour. Such a one will strive to give this back in Art out of direct experience, not veiled in a cloud of personal feeling. This personal interpretation may have some justification in certain roles on the stage, but none where poetry is concerned; for even the gentler atmosphere of a lyric poem may best be expressed by allowing the poem to speak out of its own inherent elements, out of the rhythm and the sounds into which the content is poured, rather than by a sentimental pulling of the heart-strings, or a more or less unhealthy over-tension of the nerves. Here we reach the point where we begin to gain some understanding of what is meant by the building and forming of speech. It means the experience of the creative activity of sound working through the medium of the air, through the out-going stream of the breath, — an experience, however, that can only be gained by first mastering the technique of sound-formation and production, in accordance with the laws and necessities underlying the organs of speech. It means, moreover, a highly developed ear for musical intervals and for variation of tone, an instinct which, for example, would make it impossible to bring an upward-striving, life-bringing, rejuvenating impulse into the tone of the voice when the form and feeling of the words makes a downward curve. It means a perception of the ‘line’ of a poem that is borne onward in an ever-moving curve, giving life and movement to word, line and stanza; of the artistic curve carrying with it impulse, activity and fire, which is inspired from the spiritual worlds, and seized upon by the spirit of men endowed with artistic gift. The flow of this curve must never be checked, not even in the pauses, in those essential and significant pauses, which it has to mould and shape, and during which the line, plunging down, as it were, into the spirit, draws forth a fresh impetus.
Through perpetually submerging oneself in one's own soul-being the movement and flow of the line is destroyed, and finally this tendency towards self-absorption gains the ascendancy. This is illustrated in the legend of Narcissus, although in his case there was something noble, even in his self-adulation; Narcissus was at least beautiful. To-day, however, ‘to be beautiful’ is not sufficiently piquant, — and as for being ‘nobly beautiful,’ that has no attraction. Ugliness is much more piquant. The indulged and over-excited nerves need continual stimulant; even the pose of an ‘interesting’ consumptive, merely tinged with melancholy, no longer suffices. There must be a tinge of the abnormal, there must be a kind of negro element, something inane, in order to produce the required piquancy; people revel in agonising death scenes, and are weary of the pleasant languishing decline. Nay more they rejoice in the sub-human, in the demoniacal, which again rises from the negroid element.
Do these words of mine seem too bitter? Alas, they are only too true. One must deliberately close one's eyes to facts if one would not see these things; or one's sensibilities must be blunted so that the extent of the decadence is no longer felt or noticed. That would mean the downfall of our civilisation. Yet the voice proclaiming the new impulse sounds loud and clear; men are yearning for a new world, for light, for a simpler and healthier existence; they are struggling to gain a foothold in the void.