Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, May 8, 1917 [99 years ago today]:
“I experience first of all a musical impression which is transformed into colour (note 2). Then I see one or more figures in various postures executing formalized gestures, singly or facing each other, the whole resembling a copper engraving on parchment, coloured paper or, more precisely, like a marble statue or sculptural group on which the sun falls through a veil of that colour. I experience this colour phenomenon after reading poetry which has stirred me deeply. If I put myself in the mood which Goethe's poetry evokes I see a deep golden yellow passing over into golden brown. When I read Schiller I experience a brilliant crimson; with Shakespeare every scene is a particular nuance of the particular colour I associate with the whole drama. Strangely enough the image or the group evoked is not usually a representation of the denouement, sometimes it is only a characteristic figure in some moving posture which is immediately joined by a succession of other figures. At first I know nothing of the plot or content of the drama, but ever fresh miming figures, seemingly three-dimensional, are rapidly added, now from the beginning, now from the end of the initial dramatic situation until I experience the whole drama complete with all its scenes. The whole passes before me in rapid succession; meanwhile I remain passive and a kind of physical anxiety grips me. I can then reproduce at will the content of the individual scenes as they unfold; but I find it impossible to condense the narrative content into a brief account. Next the gestures are accompanied by speech. I write down what I can recall, but, once the mood forsakes me, what I have noted down becomes a dead letter. Then I proceed to fill in the gaps in the dialogue, but for this purpose I must cast a critical eye over what I have written.”
“The work of this writer and indeed his whole makeup, was akin to that of an epic poet of the time when, in the early dawn of nations, the poetic figures were visioned by the poet as living Imaginations imbued with colour and sound.”
“The soul, that is, in this connection, the departed spirit — i.e. the soul of man that has passed through the gates of death — finds itself, according to Aristotle, not in a more perfect state, but in a highly imperfect state, inappropriate to its destiny. The image of the soul is by no means that which is often employed, namely, the image of a butterfly which after shedding its chrysalis takes wing. Rather does the soul resemble a butterfly whose wings have been torn off by a cruel hand and now crawls helplessly in the dust in the form of a miserable worm.”
“O Light supreme, by mortal thought unscanned,
Grant that Thy former aspect may return,
Once more a little of Thyself relend.
Make strong my tongue that in its words may burn
One single spark of all Thy glory's lightFor future generations to discern.For if my memory but glimpse the sightWhereof these lines would now a little say,Men may the better estimate Thy might.”
(Paradiso. Canto XXXIII) [original note 2]
NOTES BY TRANSLATORNote 1. Otto Ludwig (1813–65). Best known for his realist novels Der Erbförster and Zwischen Himmel and Erde, genre painting with careful observation of detail. He coined the term “poetischer Realismus”. His “Shakespeare Studien” showed preoccupation with dramatic theory. During his process of poetic creation he experienced a spectrum of colours and forms, known as “synaesthesia”.Note 2. “Synaesthesia” had first been foreshadowed by E. P. A. Hoffman in Kreisleriana. The hearing of a word or sound evokes a sensation of colour varying in accordance with the quality of the sound (cf. Baudelaire's sonnet “Correspondances” — “les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent” and Rimbaud's sonnet “Voyelles” in which a definite colour-value is ascribed to each of the five vowels). F. W. H. Myers described synaesthesia as follows: “When the hearing of an external sound carries with it, by some arbitrary association of ideas, the seeing of some form or colour.”Note 3. Freytag (1816–95). Author of realistic novels which extolled the virtues of the German middle class — Soll and Haben, Die Ahnen.Note 4. Swedenborg (1688–1772), engineer, scientist, philosopher and theologian. In his Arcana Caelestia he wrote: “... it has been granted me now for some years to be constantly and continuously in the company of spirits and angels, hearing them speak and speaking with them in turn. It has been given to me to hear and see the wonderful things which are in the other life ... I have been instructed there in regard to different kinds of spirits; the state of souls after death ... and especially concerning the doctrine of faith which is acknowledged in the universal Heaven.”Note 5. Fustel de Coulanges (1830–89). Originator of the scientific approach to history. His Cité antique showed that ancient institutions derived from religious beliefs common to primitive peoples. It was a study of the part played by religion in the political and social evolution of Greece and Rome.