Fourth Quarter

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Fire glyph: Element of Fire

Quarter in which Body of Fate dominates

The Four Ages of Man
He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.

Then he struggled with he heart;
Innocence and peace depart.

Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.

Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.
(VP 561) note

The Fourth Quarter is the quarter of completion, but no less a struggle than the other three. It entails a recognition of the external, objective reality, which is both Nature and God, since for Yeats God or the Sphere is the totality of all that is, and all that is beyond the individual, so that, although this is the quarter where the most intractable Faculty, Body of Fate, dominates, it is also the most spiritually aware of the quarters, associated ‘with elemental fire, because here all things are made simple’ (AV B 93).

When the Wheel is taken to represent both life and after-life, this quarter represents the first stages of the after-life, where the soul seeks to understand the life just lived, as the ‘blood-begotten spirits come / And all complexities of fury leave’ (‘Byzantium’, VP 498) approaching the Beatitude at Phase 1. In the paradigmatic Wheel of a single earthly life, the Fourth Quarter is the quarter of old age, as understanding should increase and acceptance of the great inevitable external reality, death, becomes more pressing. As the poem ‘The Four Ages of Man’ indicates, Yeats recognises that such an acceptance is seldom calm, but that inevitably God wins, and the soul moves towards the greater clarity of the after-life: ‘Eyes spiritualised by death can judge, / I cannot’ (VP 604).

The Body of Fate, ‘the stream of Phenomena as this affects a particular individual, all that is forced from without, Time as it affects sensation’ (AV A 15) enforces primary reality upon the soul, but in the first triad of the quarter the emphasis is on ‘physical objectivity’, whereas after the opening of the Tinctures comes the negation of personality, ‘the Whole objectively perceived’ or ‘a sharing of or submission to divine personality experienced as spiritual objectivity’ (AV B 88-89) which lasts through the first triad of the First Quarter. ‘During this spiritual objectivity, or spiritual primary, the Faculties “wear thin”, the Principles, which are, when evoked from the point of view of the Faculties, a sphere, shine through’ (AV B 89). In the phases of the spiritual primary, only the central consolidated one of the last triad, 26-27-28, that of the Saint, produces characters who make historical impact, since the others are too absorbed into the Whole to strive within it.

Before the self passes from Phase 22 it is said to attain what is called the ‘Emotion of Sanctity’, and this emotion is described as contact with life beyond death. It comes at the instant when synthesis is abandoned, when fate is accepted. At Phases 23, 24 and 25 we are said to used this emotion, but not to pass from Phase 25 till we have intellectually realised the nature of sanctity itself, and sanctity is described as the renunciation of personal salvation. . . . At Phase 22 the man becomes aware of something which the intellect cannot grasp, and this something is a supersensual environment of the soul. At Phases 23, 24 and 25 he subdues all attempts at its intellectual comprehension, while relating it to his bodily senses and faculties, through technical achievement, through morality, through belief. At Phases 26, 27 and 28 he permits those senses and those faculties to sinki in upon their environment. He will, if it be possible, not even touch or taste or see: ‘Man does not perceive the truth; God perceives the truth in man’. (AV B 181)

Yeats places Rembrandt and Synge at Phase 23, where technical skill and the external world give delight for their own sake, before the codifying and consolidation of Phase 24, with Queen Victoria, Lady Gregory and Galsworthy. The preparation for the spiritual primary is seen in Phase 25 with the reforming spirits of Luther and Calvin, as well as Cardinal Newman, George Herbert and George Russell (AE). The last triad starts with Phase 26, the Phase of the Hunchback or Multiple Man, where spirituality is paradoxically less evident, with the merciless judgment of both self and others according to absolutes, standing ‘in the presence of a terrible blinding light’ (AV B 179). At Phase 27, the soul has moved towards greater wholeness and ‘does not, like Phase 26, perceive separated lives and actions more clearly than total life, for the total life has suddenly displayed its source’ (AV B 180), so that active, effective sanctity is possible, as evidenced by Socrates and Pascal. However as the soul prepares for the dough-like plasticity of Phase 1, Phase 28 is a kind of spiritual dementia, where the incarnation of the Fool represents a withdrawal from the worldly and the Faculties are only partly formed, and the Principles, normally part of the unconscious mind during life, shine through. Celestial Body in particular, the Principle that corresponds with Body of Fate, the Faculty that is strongest this Quarter, brings with it ‘madness. The fool, saint’ (YVP 3 146) when it predominates in life.

Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last crescents.
The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel
Of beauty’s cruelty and wisdom’s chatter-
Out of that raving tide-is drawn betwixt
Deformity of body and of mind.
(VP 377)

At Phase 1 the Solar predominates, as ‘Thought and inclination, fact and object of desire, are indistinguishable (Mask is submerged in Body of Fate, Will in Creative Mind), that is to say, there is complete passivity, complete plasticity’, and the souls can serve as ‘instruments of supernatural manifestation, the final link between the living and more powerful beings’ (AV B 183). This non-physical incarnation is the closest in the round of the Wheel that the soul attains to the moment when ‘the Four Principles finish their circle with man united to that spiritual necessity or truth that cannot be distinguished from freedom’.
Rohartes. Because all dark, like those that are all light,
They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,
Crying to one another like the bats;
And having no desire they cannot tell
What’s good or bad, or what it is to triumph
At the perfection of one’s own obedience;
And yet they speak what’s blown into the mind;
Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,
Insipid as the dough before it is baked,
They change their bodies at a word.

Aherne. And then?

Rohartes. When all the dough has been so kneaded up
That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,
The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.
(VP 376-77)

Note on ‘The Four Ages of Man’: In A Vision it is made clear that these struggles are ‘The Four Contests of the Antithetical within Itself’, so that, although they apply around the whole Wheel, they are a partial perspective, and he offers no equivalent series for the primary within itself, partly since contest itself is an antithetical quality (AV A 35, AV B 102).

The Tinctures   The Phase Triads   The Cardinal Phases   The Wheel   Geometry   Terminology

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