Waldorf Explained

Understanding the morning verse

Jörg Grießer, April 2023

At the Waldorf School on the Alb in Engstingen there was a school newspaper called Zeitdruck which ran a series of articles on the subject of “From an anthroposophical perspective”. The school’s teachers were asked to give answers to various questions. I was to comment on the question, “Why do we say the morning verse?” 

The morning verse

I look into the world,
Wherein there shines the sun,
Wherein the gleam the stars,
Wherein there lie the stones,
The plants they live and grow,
The beasts they feel and live,
And humankind to spirit gives
A dwelling in the soul.

I look into the soul,
That lives and dwells in me,
God’s spirit lives and weaves
In sunlight and in soul-light,
In heights of world without,
In depths of soul within.
To thee O spirit of God,
I seeking turn myself,
That strength and grace and skill
For learning and for work
In me may live and grow.

After the publication of my text in the school newspaper, I received a lot of positive feedback from the pupils, such as: “Now I speak the verse more consciously ... so all this has to do with me and the world ... all the subjects are actually reflected here ...”. And in conversation with the pupils I noticed a great openness and interest in learning more about the background of Waldorf education.

In issue 7/8 2021, Erziehungskunst published a text by Markus von Schwanenflügel with the headline: “Stranger shamed. Why do you speak the morning verse?” This contribution resonates with me, as here too the need of young people to be included in the understanding of the special elements of Waldorf education is noted. The article ends with the following words: “A start could be to look together with the pupils in the course of their schooling, step by step, at what we have done with them – and especially at the things that are different in our schools. This would at the same time enable them to defend more competently what they experienced at the Waldorf school.”

These two experiences prompted me to begin the following experiment in years 11 and 12: during the period of coronavirus in the last few years, I decided in my chemistry main lessons to speak only the morning verse and to replace the otherwise usual recitation with about 15 minutes of reflections on it. As a natural scientist, I was particularly interested in the first part of the verse, that is, the four realms of nature: the mineral, plant, animal and human realm. In our joint discussions, the pupils discovered step by step during the days of the main lesson the special features of the individual realms, ascending from the mineral to the human realm.

It was easiest to characterise the mineral realm. Here it quickly became clear that we are dealing with unchanging matter, that is, dead matter, which is only subject to the laws of physics and chemistry.

In the case of the plant realm, which can override the laws of the mineral world (key point: osmosis), many defining plant characteristics emerged in class discussion, such as photosynthesis, growth, passive reproduction through wind/insects, location-dependency, large external surfaces. What is new and different in plants, then, is “life”. In addition, the fundamental question arose as to how inanimate matter can become animate. It was then the teacher’s task to outline the current state-of-the-art of science and also other ways of thinking about the question of the origin of life. In one class I was asked directly: “What is your personal attitude towards this issue?” This question shows that it is important for pupils to know what attitude the teacher has in life.

In the progression to the animal kingdom, the question arose again, besides a detailed characterisation (active reproduction, independent movement, drives, aggression, forming large inner surfaces ...), what is the new thing that plants do not have? It quickly became clear, it is the inner life that manifests itself as feeling.

The most interesting discussion then arose with the question as to whether there is also something new and different about human beings that fundamentally distinguishes them from animals, or is the human being merely a higher animal? There were two small camps in the class on this question, some said that the differences between animals and humans were only a matter of degree, not fundamental, and the others rejected this. The majority of the pupils tended to be somewhat out of their depth when it came to taking a position, but participated with interest. We then identified essential qualities (see illustration) which we summarised as the new elements under the umbrella term spirit.

Methodologically I proceeded in such a way that one of the blackboards remained reserved for the written results of the discussions throughout the entire main lesson.

This first part of the morning verse discussed with the class captures the characteristic of the respective realm in a few words: lie, live and grow, feel and live, and to spirit gives a dwelling in the soul. What lies in these brief terms, through which a whole wisdom-filled cosmos is illuminated, only now becomes truly apparent to the pupils. Speaking the verse (about 1,500 times throughout school) can now be accompanied by a meaningful understanding and this compulsory exercise at the beginning of the school day can lead to a sense of belonging to the world.

In conclusion, it was important for me to summarise with the pupils what we experienced during these days of the main lesson (see table). From the characteristics of the various realms of nature that the pupils discovered for themselves, it follows quite straightforwardly that the human being is a multi-layered being, a being that consists of various envelopes. Only as such can they be truly understood holistically. This can also lead to the realisation that the human being thus has a share in the world, is related to it and connected with it. This can help the pupils obtain a greater confidence in life – a quality that is so necessary today.

In carrying out this experiment, it became clear to me once again what Rudolf Steiner meant in the so-called Oxford course when he said: “I cannot repeat it often enough: the principle of the Waldorf school is not one that seeks to create a school based on an ideology, but a school based on a methodology.” It must therefore always be borne in mind with regard to the pupils that it is not a matter of imparting a worldview but of a method of looking at the world.


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