An Encounter with Rudolf Steiner
F.W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven
Dr. Zeylman's book about Rudolf Steiner's life and work was published in The Hague in 1932. It contains a beautiful and remarkable chapter in which the author describes Rudolf Steiner as he met him.
Winter, 1920. In the spurs of the Swiss Jura Mountains lies the little village of Dornach. On top of a hill, hemmed in on three sides by high mountain ridges, lies the Goetheanum, facing west. The pale, glittering slates on the double-doomed roof are barely visible against the background of snow that covers most of the landscape.
Beside the Goetheanum stands a large wooden barn. One half of it is used as a carpentry workshop, as the Goetheanum, which was opened during the pervious fall, is not yet completed. In the other half, which is furnished as a lecture hall and theater, Rudolf Steiner delivers his lectures.
Hundreds of listeners sit on the simple wooden chairs. The front of the auditorium is separated from the stage by curtains of blue linen. they form the backdrop for a small wooden platform, draped with material of the same color, on which Rudolf Steiner stands.
When he speaks, absolute silence reigns in the auditorium. The eyes of everyone focus constantly on the dark figure in front. Rudolf Steiner is of medium height, slender, almost frail. This strikes the listener immediately as a remarkable contrast to his heavy, powerful voice and speech. The sound of his voice has a quality that one will never forget. There is something deeply moving in it, as if the speaker shares in the suffering of all mankind.
Sometimes the voice sounds warm and enveloping. Then the listening mind feels as if it were taken up and transported into other worlds, inaccessible to ordinary consciousness. At other times the voice sounds stronger. One senses a force in it that only higher powers can bestow. Words are spoken that resound over the earth like warning clarion calls. Then again, one is moved by a gentle heartiness, a tenderness, which frees something deep down in the listener, giving a feeling of awakening to an inner world, where a hidden light begins to shine.
But always it is as if every word spoken received a life of its own. These words are not abstract symbols for the communicating thoughts. They are born as living beings, and they continue to live in the hearts of the listeners.
Rudolf Steiner speaks freely, without notes, improvising as it were. In this way he delivers more than a hundred, and sometimes more than two hundred, lectures a year. Almost all are different and range over the most diverse of topics. The shorthand records, uncorrected, show an unbelievable richness in the treatment of the language. The lectures are built up according to the highest standards of artistic taste and reason. Upon rereading them one frequently discovers a regularity in them that is reminiscent of organic growth. Even as a plant grows, germinating at first, unfolding one leaf after another, blooming in splendor, and then contracting again into the fruit and the seed, the contents of each of these lectures likewise grow and flourish. We always find a strong inner consistency and a free, living development.
Rudolf Steiner accompanies the spoken word with harmonious gestures of his arms and hands. It is not arbitrary gesticulation, nor a passionate play for gestures. Rather, it is the natural extension of what lives in the soul of the language and finds expression from the chest through the arms and the hands.
An extraordinary vigor is characteristic of his entire manner of lecturing. Even when a great calm, a deep inner silence, predominates in what is being said, one still notices a delicate, continual mobility in the gestures and in the face. The posture of Rudolf Steiner, almost sixty years old, is remarkably youthful; his movements are supple and resilient. His figure is like that of a young and vigorous plant, standing freely between the heavens and the earth, its leaves supported by the air into which they expand.
His face bears an expression that is most profoundly human and at the same time most highly spiritual. His free, high, slightly receding forehead is broad and of firm build, with tiny wrinkles, and with deep grooves above the nose. His black hair, higher on the right side and lower on the left, is combed backward in simple fashion. the tan color of his skin seems to light up against the frame of dark hair. One feels that behind such a forehead only the clearest, noblest, highest thoughts can dwell.
The eyes recede deeply under the shadow of the heavy brows. One might say that these eyes are dark brown, but that would tell very little of their true nature. How can we describe them? Sometimes they appear unfathomable. One looks into them as into an abyss, standing dazzled at the brink. At other times it is a depth like a dark night, when no stars are visible, yet their presence is felt. But most of the time the eyes are radient with a warm light. A golden glow lives in their dark brown color. An infinite goodness speaks out of them: A love for all creatures. They can also be searching and inquiring, as if wanting to penetrate into the very core of things. Then again they are twinkling with a mood of cheerfulness, or of friendly humor. There is a constant alternation between looking outward into nature, into the world, and looking inward into those regions where the mystery of life are revealed to the mind. A mystery of love and wisdom, of tenderness and strength, speaks out of those eyes. These are the eyes of a man who has discovered this mystery within himself and has devoted his life to proclaiming it for the good of humanity.
The face as a whole derives a very pronounced character from the strikingly strong lines of the nose and mouth. The nose is almost straight and merges with the deep grooves and the many tiny wrinkles on both sides of the face. The mouth has a long, firmly shaped upper lip, slightly advanced with respect to the tight lower lip. Together with the broad but delicately molded chin, the mouth conveys an impression of great but thoughtfully controlled strength, of a determined will born out of the spirit.
How widely varies the expression of this face! Sometimes one feels oneself to be standing in front of someone in the full strength of life, a mature person full of energy and practical sense, then it is an old man, a sage, filled with quiet love for all that lives and suffers; then again a youth, inspired, glowing with holy fire.
Sometimes it happened that people who met Rudolf Steiner for the first time would feel a certain disappointment. They had expected a "world reformer," a prophet with corresponding appearance and mien. Instead they found themselves vis á vis this remarkable man with a quality of life that was constantly being reborn, who seemed to them now an artist, then a scientist, then again a priest, but who remained above all human, without pretense or simulation. This man lived out of the depth of the spirit. He wanted to see the spirit triumph, but not in the realms beyond the earth and humanity. He wanted to proclaim the spirit as that universal power which creates forms on the earth and likewise in the human mind. This universal spirit power has become manifest, in a way that anyone can understand, in the life and work of Rudolf Steiner. It has come into evidence too in the finest qualities of humanness in his person.
Rudolf Steiner! For thousands his name expresses the content of their lives. For thousands the encounter with him meant a new birth. Hom many years will have to pass before the mystery of this man will have been fully fathomed?
Also by F.W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven:
America and Americanism
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Uncle Taz Home Page 3
Visit the Rudolf Steiner electronic library