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Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Schmidt Number: S-3091

On-line since: 31st December, 2020

Lecture V


7th August, 1915

Tree of Knowledge - I

My dear friends, I should like to put together various things today which will give us the possibility of going into some important matters that we will speak of in connection with our present subject.

Let us suppose that here were the surface of the earth — arable land, meadow, or what you will (a drawing was made), and plants, any kind of plants grew in this meadow. And suppose that here were a worm or some little creature, that lives and burrows under the earth and has its home under the earth and never comes above the surface. This little grub or caterpillar, or whatever it is, creeps about inside and learns by its creeping about to know the roots of these plants. Naturally, as this creature never comes out above the surface of the earth, it only learns to know the roots of the plants, it learns to know nothing else; it creeps about and learns to recognise the roots. And what will happen is the following, is it not?

When a certain time comes in this creeping about of the caterpillar, processes are going on up above in the plants, in the whole plant nature; real processes are going on which are dependent on the sunshine, on the sun's giving out a certain warmth. The processes which the plants are undergoing naturally also bring about changes in the roots. When the plant above begins to put out fresh shoots and to bear blossoms, changes occur similarly in the roots. All the roots processes are affected when something occurs above. So we can say: when this worm is creeping about underneath, up above, caused by sun-activities, shoots, leaves, fruits are called forth, and processes are then brought about in the roots. But the caterpillar only crawls about in the earth; it creeps from root to root.

Now let us for once suppose — hypothetically we can accept it — that this caterpillar or grub were a worm-philosopher or a caterpillar-philosopher, and evolved a world-conception. Thus it creeps about there down below the earth and makes itself a world-conception. In the picture that it devises as world-conception, there can naturally never play a role, the fact that the sun comes and the shoots spring forth — for the caterpillar can know nothing of this; it creeps around, this caterpillar, this worm, and studies the changes in the roots, and notices quite clearly that something is going on, that the roots become different, and also that in the part of the earth lying round something is happening, and he now expresses all he knows, this worm. He expresses all of this, but in the picture of the world which he makes for himself, never a word is to be found about the existence of the sun, the coming forth of the plants; this indeed is self-evident. That is to say, a world-conception arisen in this worm-philosopher which will give a proper picture of the condition under the earth, whether it becomes damper, becomes warmer ... To be sure he does not know, this worm, whence this warmth comes ... That it becomes warmer, that all sorts of processes go on in the roots, all that he comprehends. And let us suppose the worm were not an ordinary worm-philosopher but was inspired by some modern philosopher of the opinion so current today, that all depends on cause and effect, everything is subjected to causality, as it is expressed in a scientifically philosophical-technical way. Then this worm will creep about down below and will call one thing a cause and another an effect and say: Now the earth becomes somewhat warmer from above downwards; that causes alterations in the roots. With the further processes he will represent the one as cause and the further processes in the roots as effects, and so on ... and a consistent picture will emerge, which classifies all the processes under the earth as cause and effect. But it would not include that fact that the sun shines, and the plants come out, and through this the processes in the roots are changed. Still, the worm's world-picture would be quite a consistent one. It could be a genuine picture of causality, there need be nothing lacking in the chain of cause and effect.

Now you see, it is quite clear to you, I think, that this worm-philosophy represents a one-sided world-conception which is quite correct ... except that it lacks what man considers the most important of all. That is, that the sun comes with its warmth and light and brings about what the worm actually observes down there below; it is clear, indeed, how in fact his whole causality only depends on the fact that he does not come up above the surface of the earth.

You see, as a matter of fact, such worms are the people who philosophize today on the chain of causality, of causes and effects. The image is completely opposite: men makes researches into what their senses see; and move about in what — well, not in what is shut off spatially from above — but in what is shut off through sense observation, and they simply do not perceive the spiritual extended everywhere, that causes the causes. They do not distinguish the spiritual which is behind cause and effect. It is really an exact analogy.

Now if the worm should suddenly come out and see the sun, he could discover that the cause of all he has puzzled out down below is, as a matter of fact, what other beings up above are seeing, and that his world-conception simply does not hold good. He would have to realize that what he himself underneath has had as perceptions of differences, is up above. It is just the same when one raises oneself from ordinary human sight to spiritual sight, for one notes how then something comes into the sense-world which cannot be perceived under ordinary circumstances.

You also see from this how the much vaunted inner completeness of a world-conception means nothing for its correctness. One who can set himself genuinely with his whole heart and soul into this worm-existence can give the assurance that nothing at all in this worm-conception need rest on a logical error. Hence all logic can be correct and complete in itself, there need be no logical error in it, it can be a world-conception completely tenable inwardly. You will realize from this, however, that it is in no way a question of being able or not able to prove something with the instruments of the world in which man is. I have often referred to this from other aspects. This we are not concerned with, whether or not a man can prove something with the means offered by the world in which he dwells. World-conceptions can have ever such fine proofs in themselves, they still remain — well — let us say: worm-world-conceptions. When we let this really work upon our soul, we see what stands behind of great importance: we note how — when we once guess that there are yet other worlds — a kind of general world -the duty arises of entering into those other worlds. For no matter how complete in itself is a world-conception, it does not follow that it gives one any knowledge of the actual events and processes. And this is truly what one finds with the majority of the philosophies of today and the immediate past; they are worm-conceptions. They are complete in themselves in a really extraordinarily logical way, they have an immense amount of value for the worlds in which man dwells; but they are only constructed with the means of the worlds in which man dwells. You see from this that you cannot rely on so-called proofs, unless you first come to understand where these proofs originate. For our time, it is truly a matter of getting a feeling for the way other worlds permeate our world, for the way other worlds allow themselves to become manifest. Certainly, this is difficult. For truly, conditions for the worm are such that he lives underground; the worm would not endure well up above, if he were forced to go out there; first he would have to adapt himself to the new conditions. Thus it is also difficult for the human being, when he detaches himself as soul from his bodily nature, to adapt himself to the new conditions.

Now you can raise a question, my dear friends, you can say: ‘Fine, you have now compared the world in which the human being lives with his senses to the world under the earth. Show us something, anything at all, that limits, truly limits our ordinary sense-world conception in any such way.’ One can raise this point quite seriously. In the course of the process of consecutive formation of Saturn, Sun and Moon, Time (during the Moon-existence) and Space (during the Earth-existence) first entered into humanity's world conception. When we speak of Saturn, Sun and Moon, and use spatial conceptions to aid is that description, we actually speak only in Imaginations, and we must remain conscious throughout of the fact that when we speak of these three worlds in spatial conceptions, these space-conceptions have only as much to do with what was brought to completion in those worlds as ... well, let us say, as the forms of the letters of the alphabet have to do with the meanings of the words. We must not take contemporary conceptions as they are, but rather as signs, as images of these worlds. For Space only has meaning for that which evolves within the span of Earth-existence, and Time has actually only become meaningful since the separation of the Old Moon from the Sun; that is the strict point in which the Old Moon separated from the Sun. Then for the first time it is possible to speak of events occurring in time, as we speak today.

Since, however, we have our mental concepts in time and space — for everything external that we conceive is in space, everything that we bring to consciousness and let arise within, runs its course in time — we are thereby between birth and death, but only between birth and death, shut in by space and time, as the worm dwells down there in its earth. Space and time are our boundaries, just as the earth substance is the worm's boundary. We are worms of space and worms of time; we are so, truly, in a quite high, in a quite exact sense. For as incarnated men we move about in space; we observe things in space, and that which observes is our soul, which itself lives in the concepts (Vorstellungen). Between birth and death time goes on, from falling asleep to awakening time goes on. The comparison is by no means a bad one, when one sees the reality. Insofar as our soul is enclosed in the body, as regards the world-picture it forms, it is truly a worm, who creeps about in space and who, if it wishes to arrive at realities, must come out of space. Then it must also get accustomed to viewing things not merely under time-conditions, but under conditions, for which that which takes its course in time is nothing but an outer sign, like a letter of the alphabet.

Now after I have called attention to this, I will lead these studies over to the realm of soul and spirit. Just as the coming plant is already actually contained in the seed, so, naturally, there was already contained in an earlier germinal state, what has developed for man today on earth in perceptions of space and time. I have already pointed out here in one connection that rudiments were already contained in Saturn, Sun, Moon. So that when here on earth we assign a certain meaning to what goes on around us, we must as it were see this meaning already present, in the old evolution of the Moon, the Sun, etc. With the forming of time and the forming of space, the meaning of life on earth must in some way have prepared itself. The forming of space and time must have so come about that then the meaning of the earth-life was added to it like a kind of flower. Now we can picture these processes — Saturn, Sun and Moon in the following way. We can say: We have an Old Saturn existence which is surrounded by the cosmos; we have an Old Sun-existence, again surrounded by the cosmos; we have an Old Moon-existence but already developing out of it a sort of neighbouring planet (you may read this in myOccult Science) and we have then learnt to know that the Earth separates from the Sun and again from the Moon.

If the man of materialistic thought (I will suppose what is most favourable for our Spiritual Science) could prevail on himself to believe in these developments, he would still have to overcome the next step, which consists fundamentally in the fact that the whole evolution (origin of Saturn, of the Sun, further development to Moon, separation of the Moon, separation of Earth, Sun and Moon) all really occurs in order to make Man possible, as he is on earth. Just as the processes of a plant's root- and leaf-building happen in order to make possible the blossom and the fruit, so do all these processes, these macrocosmic processes, happen in order to make possible our life on earth; they arise so that we may live on earth in the way we do. One could also say: These processes are the roots of our earth-life; this life is there so that we can develop on Earth as we do. Let us be quite clear that we have to do with the separation of the Sun on the one hand, the separation of the Moon on the other hand — that we have to do with separations so that our Earth could come into existence as Earth. That is to say, we were left behind on the Earth planet, and Sun and Moon separated from us and work on the earth from outside. That had to come about, otherwise nothing could have developed in us as it does on earth. For everything to develop on Earth in the way it does it was necessary that once in primeval times Sun and Moon were united with the earth and that then they separated, and now let their activity shine in from outside upon the earth. That is absolutely necessary.

Now I should like to show that our inner soul life has taken on quite distinct configurations through the fact that this has taken place. Among the very varied ideas which we have — I could adduce many as examples — and which play a certain role in the whole state of our earth existence, is the idea of ‘possessing something,’ ‘having something.’ This implies that our own person unites itself with something which is outside the personality. We speak in the rarest cases of possessing our arm and our nose, for most people experience their arm or nose as so much belonging to them that they do not speak of a possession. But what could be separated and then belongs to us we describe purely in the legal sense as a possession, a genuine possession. Now the concept of possessing something which is outside could not be formed in us at all, if there had not arisen the separation of what had formerly belonged to the earth, and the being drawn in again of the Sun and Moon to the earth. Our life was quite different on the Old Sun. There Sun and Moon were united as Sun with what were processes of Earth; they were inwardly united with the whole human existence. There the human being could say: ‘Sun activity in me,’ ‘I Sun activity’ (if he could have said ‘I’ already, as the archangels could) ‘I Sun activity’; not ‘the sun shines on me, Sun activity comes toward me.’ This Planet or Fixed Star Sun had to be separated so that we as earth men could develop this special configuration of the possession-concept.

Now this is connected with something else. Imagine an Archangel on the old Sun-existence; he says: ‘I Sun.’ That we see something rests upon the fact that the sun's rays or other light-rays shine on the object and are thrown back to us. Were the sun to shine from the midst of the earth, we should see nothing of the objects which are upon the earth. We should then say: ‘I Sun,’ ‘I Light,’ but we should not separate the individual objects, we should not see them. Thus something else still is connected with this. In the Earth's evolution from Saturn, Sun, Moon to Earth, we have for the first time, through this macrocosmic constellation, the possibility of seeing and perceiving objects as we do now. Such perceptions were naturally not present during the Sun-existence. Although the first rudiments of our sense-organs had already been prepared on Old Saturn, they were only opened upon the Earth, only there were they made organs of perception. These rudiments on Saturn were blind and unperceiving sense-organs. The sense-organs were first opened by the separation of the Sun and the departure of the Moon from the earth. You see from this that two processes go parallel — the activity of our sense-perceptions and the sight of external objects, and running parallel with this, the possession-concept. For how do we come to the concept of possession? You could not imagine that an Archangel during the Sun-existence wished to possess anything. He does not behold things; he is everything. If all objects and beings of the earth were like this, they would never have the urge to want to possess anything. With this development of the senses develops for the first time the possession-concept, the possession-concept is not separable from the development of the senses; these two things run parallel. The senses were on the one side, and something like the possession-concept on the other side. Other concepts can also be taken.

And when we consider in a more comprehensive sense what stands in the religious records, in the Bible (for in such records as the Bible very many things lie concealed) — then we can say: What is given at the beginning of the Bible about the Luciferic temptation is connected with the promise of Lucifer to man that his senses shall be developed: ‘Your eyes shall be opened.’ He means that all senses shall be opened — the eyes only stand for the senses as a whole. In this way he has guided the senses to external things and at the same time called forth the concept of possession. If we wished to relate somewhat more in detail what Lucifer promised to the woman we should have to say: You will become as gods, your senses will be opened; you will distinguish between what pleases you and does not please you, what you call good and evil, and you will wish to possess all that pleases you, that you call good. — One must connect all this with the Luciferic temptation.

Now we must reflect about something, if we wish to grasp aright such a conception as I have now developed. Here is one of the points where it is necessary in a lecture on Spiritual Science to call upon the reflection and meditation of each individual who wants to assimilate what is given. One must reflect upon something; In developing for you the arising of the senses, the perception of objects, and the evolution of the possession-concept, we have not been obliged to introduce any concept of space or time. To be sure, if a man wants to picture these things to himself, if he sketches them on a board, he avails himself of the assistance of the space and time idea. But in order to grasp what this means: 'the senses are opened' or 'the possession-concept is developed' one does not need the idea of space and time. These things are independent of space and time. You do not need to think you are spatially distant from something when you want to possess it; nor do you need to call on the time-processes. I have said, here one must summon self-reflection, for everyone can object: ‘I cannot do it’ ... But if he makes sufficient effort, he can imagine such things without the aid of space and time concept. Indeed, something else is true: when you try to bring such concepts clearly to consciousness, that is, to meditate them as I have just done with you, you gradually come out beyond the idea of space and time. You come out into a world where space and time really do not-play the eminent role in your experience that they play in everyday life.

Now there exists in the evolution of humanity a peculiar longing. Wherever in history we meet with the human race in its innermost striving, we come upon a certain longing. And that is the longing to have concepts which are independent of space and time, which have nothing to do with space and time. Historical events are transformed into myths, or in the historical presentation there is an indication of the spiritual in order to make it possible to show how historical events take a mythical form. And the further we look back in history, for instance, the more we find as historical traditions, the historical facts veiled in the myth. Only reflect how already in ancient Greek history all is veiled in myth and in regard to earlier mid-European history all is enveloped in myth and legend! The further one goes back the more one is removed from the external, merely physical feeling of facts, and the presentation plunges into symbolism. When you study myths you will remark that in the arising of myths there is clearly to be seen the desire to work oneself out of space and time. Not only that fairy tales — the most elementary myths — often depict how some human being (I am thinking of the Sleeping Beauty) passes out of time and enters the timeless, but when you examine myths you will see that you do not rightly know which facts are meant to be spiritual. Something that lies centuries earlier may be related later. Sometimes, too, facts which lie hundreds of years apart in history are welded together in a myth. The myth seeks to lift itself above space and time. This means that there lives in man's existence the longing to rise above this space-condition which makes us think and visualise in space and time. There is a longing to live in such concepts as depict, free of space and time, those realities which rule as the eternal things in the succession of events in our space and time existence, or, if they have once been formed, remain as the eternal things.

You see, if you take what I have just said together with something which I said last time you will see a wonderful connection. I said that if a Luciferic quality was not active in us, we should see that our world of concepts is really in the Old Moon. But now it follows from this that the Old Moon is actually present, has remained, and that it is only Lucifer who bewitches us into thinking that our concept is now in ourself. Thus time becomes there a means of deception and illusion for Lucifer. The ancient Moon-existence endures and so also do things that arise, endure. Our possession-concepts are enduring. This means that what earthly man develops as social earthly-order, by reason of his possession-concept, this remains, this will also still be in existence when the Jupiter and Venus conditions are one day there. And then if corresponding temptations do not come as Luciferic and Ahrimanic temptations, one will see how social orders were formed on earth through the possession-idea. They will then present something like physical orders. For that is a part of Maya-existence, of illusion — the idea that things pass away; in reality they are enduring, in reality they go on subsisting. And already, if one understands things aright, one finds the enduring behind the actual past. You can grasp it to some extent in what I have just related.

But now, if we truly grasp what I have said, we are really looking into profoundly important foundations of our whole earth-existence. For do we not see how beneath the spatial and temporal earth-existence the eternally enduring earth-existence, or existence in general, is veritably spread out? How we have a spatial, a temporal-spatial condition on the surface, and within, the condition of duration. And now comes our mode of viewing things when it takes its course in space and time, our views and concepts that live in space and time. Just consider, how one can picture that concretely in detail, think for once ... nowadays men no longer grasp this thoroughly ... but somewhere or somehow, think simply 'red.’™ In order to think 'red' you need no space and you need no time; you can think 'red' to yourself anywhere; it does not have to be there in time or space, because it is thought of just as quality. (red was put on the board.) It is difficult nowadays for a man to picture it because he wants to give the red a boundary. It was not difficult like this for the angels on the Old Moon for they had no desire to distribute red over separate objects. They had time already, but not space. Actually they pictured, that is they experienced 'red' or 'green' or any other colour as flowing current. Try to conceive this vividly: blue = flowing current; red = flowing current; conceive, too, of the other sense-experiences in the same way — streaming, but only in time, letting no real spatial concept, intermingle ... we can say: at the transition from Moon- to Earth-existence one can feel how the mere time-quality was yoked into the spatial. What then actually determines the essential nature of earth existence, that a 'red' is in this way given a boundary and yoked in? On the Moon it would have been impossible to see an enclosed 'red,’™ on Earth it is possible to see red enclosed in a boundary. (A sketch of a flower was drawn.) This, however, is connected, inwardly connected, with the separation of the sun from the earth, and with the falling of the sun's rays from outside upon the earth. So that in a true sense I can say: the sunbeam falls on earth from outside. That already shows you that our present existence is inconceivable without the space-concept. Yes, for our present perception and life, this external position of the sun betokens something real.

Now from what I have brought forward you can easily gather that we can really say: colours are harnesses into space. In ‘Theosophy’ I have called that which lives in man after death ‘flowing sensitivity,’ since there he is not bound to space. I therefore spoke of the first world through which he lives as the ‘world of flowing sensitivity.’ For the sun's must first come in from outside, must harness sense-perceptions into space. With this is connected, as I have explained, the fact that man evolves ideas of possession; for in a world of flowing sensitivity a person can never think of possession -time at most is present there — and he would soon see the futility of it if he were to think of possession. It would be rather like thinking of possessing a piece of water, flowing along in a brook. This only arises inasmuch as the sun, separating from the earth, brings the sense-perceptions into the framework of space.

You see, something like this that I have just expounded must be transformed into an experience, a feeling; one cannot leave it as a mere theoretical concept. One must change it into a feeling, one must really get an inner living sensation how as man, as microcosm, one is placed into the macrocosm, and how this very yearning, i.e. to possess something, is connected with the whole development of the macrocosm, with the course of events through which sense observation has developed. When one feels this rightly, when one begins, so to say, to feel cosmically how, for instance, the simple concept: thou wouldst like to possess what thou seest and what pleases thy sight ... how this is born out of the macrocosm, then for the first time one really gets the truly living idea that the human soul nature is dependent on the whole cosmos. Then one gets a strong and vividly living feeling of how in every concept of ordinary life one is connected with the macrocosm, and how actually in all that we picture and conceive and experience in the soul, the macrocosm lives in us. And there exists a continual longing in man to experience such hidden connections as actually exist in life, and to express the experience. This exists —this longing in the human soul, in the heart of man. And let us imagine that there arose in a human soul a vivid feeling and sensation ( I wish to express the cosmic connection of this single soul experience): ‘My eye falls there on an external object; I want to possess it; I will appropriate it’ ... then from such a feeling, one can experience what I might call — the tragedy of Nature. I say 'the tragedy of the world of nature.’™ We really take from a whole world, — extending to the Moon and still present as the basis of our world, — we take from it what we wish to possess. What we desire to possess we take away from this world which rests on the basis of our natural world. That we take away. And this it is which must be consistently felt by a human soul felt by a human soul that is really sensitive to nature: that there, in the background of Nature, lies something which she must continually submit to; namely, that man contests Nature, who will give all to all, and says: ‘This belongs to me!’ And now consider with full human feeling this gainsaying of Nature, who gives all to all: This I will have for myself, and that I will have it for myself is induced by the fact that my senses find it good or less good for me, sympathetic or antipathetic. Here one can enter deeply with one's own soul into natural existence, can feel with Nature how something is taken away from her. And it is taken away because the human being, under the impression of his senses, forms the thought that he wants to have for himself what Nature wishes to give to all.

I once felt in my soul, my dear friends, suddenly and with special profoundness, how one can experience this whole relationship that I have just sought to characterize. How one can learn to feel with Nature when she says: Protect myself as I will, world evolution has gone so far that the human being declares that my things are his things. Yes, in a certain moment years ago, I felt that experience most warmly and intimately in my soul. It was years ago in a society where there was to be a programme of Recitations. And as it happens from time to time, especially in Recitation programmes, that the persons concerned are prevented from coming and excuse themselves; so it happened here too, a lady reciter sent her excuses and at once a substitute had been found. And now one may think as one will about the value of the declamation that followed and about the substitute — I will not go into that now, — but he was of a quite particular kind, namely, there was found ready to recite the programme in place of the actress who had fallen out, one of the purest, noblest Catholic priests that I have ever come to know in the world. And one had then, or could have, a quite specially significant experience, which in effect condensed for me into what I just now expressed to you.

For this grave and earnest priest — with all that Catholicism brings with it for the really true and upright priest — had according to the programme to recite the ‘Heidenröslein’ of Goethe. And in this recitation one could really experience something, for the man was not only a priest in the ordinary sense, but he, was so learned and so purely given up to spiritual studies, that many said: ‘This man (I will not mention his name) knows the whole world ... and in addition, three villages ...’ for they found him so wise and experienced in things one can know. Now although the recitation was not particularly good, there actually lay in the whole mode and manner in which he gave the ‘Heidenröslein,’ something immensely significant, since one could feel that his whole perception of the world was derived, one might say, from a perception that had been turned away from everything of a sense nature. One could feel how, precisely through the fact that a priest came forward instead of an actress, the whole cosmic power, the immense cosmic power and fineness that lies in this unique poem ‘Das Heidenröslein’ (see end of lecture for poem and translation) came into the recitation. This poem has, indeed, what one might call a prelude; it is an old folksong. And I have already said that men have ever the longing to experience what lives cosmically in the subsoil of existence. And precisely in this poem ‘Das Heidenr&öslein’ there enters something of this quite grandly sublime cosmic subsoil in infinitely simple images. Therefore one must count ‘Das Heidenröslein’ among the very finest pearls of poetry that ever have been given to the world. Years ago I have also heard of people who have attributed something or other, I know not what, of everyday human, all-too-human, connexions to ‘Das Heidenröslein’; that merely comes from a perverted condition of mind. If people can do that — interpret anything which is not quite pure into the ‘Heidenröslein,’ this appertains to a mind that from its sense-exhalations likes continually to revel in all sorts of ‘sacred love.’ One can indeed revel continuously in ‘sacred love’ from sensations of sense-exhalations but that which underlies as cosmic foundations such a poem as ‘Das Heidenröslein’ can only be felt with pure, with chaste heart, and every misconstruction would show a complete desolation and emptiness of mind.

For let us take the wonderful thing which this ‘Heidenröslein’ has actually become as it has been given us by Goethe, and through the fact that the folk song passed over into the youthful lyric depths of his art. Something quite remarkable it has become: in every line always the very thing that ought to be there! Consider for a moment that one felt what lies in the activity of sense-perceptions and how they have developed throughout cosmic evolution ... and that one wished to describe this. How could one do it better than by taking the red in an object, eliminating the space-boundary and letting echo: ‘Röslein,Röslein,Röslein rot’ ... ‘rot’ (red) echoing in ‘Röslein,Röslein,Röslein rot.’ Immediately there confronts us the whole mystery as it is set before us out of the cosmos. The sense-world stands there: ‘Röslein,Röslein,Röslein rot,’ in the continuous ‘Röslein,Röslein,Röslein rot.’ Now in the first line we are shown at once that we are concerned with this mystery — this being able to look out from the senses,’sah ein Knab' ein Röslein stehn, Röslein auf der Heiden.’ Now already in the next line in a wonderful enhancement, which is rarely so beautiful in poetry, a nuance is brought out that now the little red rose begins to become sympathetic — ‘War so Jung undmorgenschön’ ... it thus already becomes something which warrants sympathy with what is revealed from the senses. So the next line is inserted with precisely what belongs to it: ‘lief er schnell, es nah zu sehn’: there you have the whole correspondence of the senses with what is presented to them: he runs to see it close to! And now the next line, again an enhancement, but this time in himself; to begin with, the intensification was outside, — ‘Röslein auf der Heiden,’ — simply the object; then ‘was so young and morning-fair,’ the enhancement outside, and in him ‘ran he fast, it near to see’ ... inasmuch as he ran fast to see it near, ‘Sah's mit vielen Freuden’ (saw it with much joy). You see how the outer corresponds with the inner. Now comes the refrain, ‘Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heiden,’ in order to show us quite particularly how the correspondence is between him and that which appears outside as the object ‘red.’ And the mysterious connection with possession: ‘Knabe sprach: ich breche dich.’ He wants to possess it, he wants to pluck the little rose, he wants to take it home with him. There is nothing else in it, but what is in it is of wonderful cosmic depth.‘Knabe sprach: ich breche dich, Röslein auf der Heiden. Röslein sprach: ich steche dich ...’We can see in this sentence, ‘ich steche dich’ (I prick thee) the whole mystery of Nature, who wants to protect herself from man's assertion: ‘I will take thy things home.’ She, Nature, would like to do with all her objects as she would have done with the little rose ‘ leave it for all to see who pass by. For in this ‘Röslein sprach: ich steche dich’ is indeed uniquely contained what I have described as a feeling that shares in the tragedy of Nature. ‘bass du ewig denkst an mich’ (that thou must think of me eternally); he must think of Nature forever, for he transforms her permanence into something fleeting, he brings the possession-relation into what has first arisen in space and time. The human being must atone for his having come out of permanence and must therefore at least think of it eternally, it must be perpetuated, made eternal; the untruth must not persist that it is not perpetuated. Then again: ‘und ich will's nicht leiden’ (and I will not suffer it). The little rose simply stands as the representative of the whole of Nature — every natural object actually says this when one wants to possess it. And again, so that attention may be fully fixed on the real subject, ‘Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heiden...’ And the next verse again shows a wonderful enhancement: he will not let himself be held back — ‘und der wilde Knabe brach's Röslein auf der Heiden’ — thus he nevertheless determines to possess it! ‘Röslein wehrte sich und stack’ ’¦ Again as the representative of the whole of Nature. ‘Half ihm dock kein Weh und Ach’ — this is the general experience of Nature, and we feel that tragedy which expresses itself like a mood in Nature when man wishes to possess her: ‘Musst' es eben leiden’ (she must after all permit, suffer it.) Infinitely profound are these words ‘musst' es eben leiden!’

But this microcosmic mystery has in fact a macro-cosmic counterpart, and if one now leaves the microcosm for the macrocosm one may say — who then in the macrocosm is the wild boy who plucks the little rose on the heath? It is the sunbeam, which separated from the earth with the Sun and which now falls on earth from outside. It actually calls forth on the one hand the little rose on the heath, but then when it sees it, when it is there, quickly gathers it again, makes it wither and fade.

Thus it is in nature everywhere. Nature still gives us a memory of the ‘Musst’™ es eben leiden’: next to the rose the thorns, the shrivelled thorns which are a token that Nature nevertheless remembers how the sunbeam takes from her what she possesses. But when we do not merely observe as the materialist does, but include the whole cosmic feeling, the thorn near the rose is also the expression of the grief of nature in contrast to Nature's great joy; the jubilation of nature when the rosebush stands there with all its roses, the grief when the wild boy, the sun-ray comes and makes the roses wither. That is the Goethe-poem in the macrocosm: and one can only say: if anything is fitted to stimulate esoteric feelings, it is such poems, where there is no need to think and attribute all sorts of dry allegories to them, but where one only needs to remember a great truth: — when the true poet goes beyond nature it is because he seeks to put into words what can be felt behind the surface of facts, and beyond space and time.

And when a poet produces something in such simple incidents as a boy's plucking a rose on the heath, which yet speaks so deeply to our hearts, it is because this heart of ours received its rudiments when we ourselves were not yet united with the earth, when we were still united with the ancient Sun existence — and were able to feel with the whole world. Although through the Luciferic-Ahrimanic illusion we now ascribe our feelings to ourselves as I have shown, yet all the same they arise out of the cosmos, and on this rests the fact that we can so inwardly accompany the true poet although he describes the simplest incident of the plucking of a rose. For into what arises from the human soul in the simplest events, the whole cosmos is placed. And we need not make assertions and think it out, but we feel it, when we let such a marvellously delicate poem as ‘Das Heidenrösslein’ work upon us. We feel that the whole world is secreted in it, world mysteries are laid within it, — so that the secrets of art too gradually reveal themselves to us. They unfold as we ascend from the perception and experiencing of objects in a purely external way to an inward perception, as we ascend from microcosmos to macrocosmos and seek gradually to learn the hidden but active mysteries in our souls.Das Heidenröslein — Translation [Note: ‘rosebud’ is not strictly ‘Röslein,’ but is used for the sake of the metre. (Translator)]

The Little Rose on the Heath



The Little Rose on the Heath

Saw a boy a rosebud there,

Rosebud on the heather.

Was so young and morning-fair,

Ran he fast to see it near,

Saw it full of pleasure.

Rosebud, Rosebud, Rosebud red

Rosebud on the heather.

Boy declared: I'm picking thee,

Rosebud on the heather!

Rosebud said: I'm pricking thee

So thou ever think'st of me,

And I'll not this suffer.

Rosebud, Rosebud, Rosebud red

Rosebud on the heather.

And the wild young boy did pick

Rosebud on the heather;

Rosebud armed itself to prick –

Lamentations helped no whit –

Must it simply suffer.

Rosebud, Rosebud, Rosebud red

Rosebud on the heather.

Das Heidenröslein

Sah ein Knab' ein Röslein stehn,

Röslein auf der Heiden,

War so jung und morgenschön,

Lief er schnell, es nah zu sehn,

sah's mit vielen Freuden.

Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot,

Röslein auf der Heiden.

Knabe sprach: ich breche dich,

Röslein auf der Heiden!

Röslein sprach: ich steche dich,

dass du ewig denkst an mich,

und ich will's nicht leiden.

Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot,

Röslein auf der Heiden.

Und der wilde Knabe brach&'s

Röslein auf der Heiden;

Röslein wehrte sich und stach,

Half ihm doch kein Weh und Ach,

Musst’™ es eben leiden.

Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot,

Röslein auf der Heiden.

Last Modified: 02-Feb-2021
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