Academic journal article Yeats Eliot Review

The Full or the Dark: An Analysis of Phases 1 & 15 in Yeats's System

Academic journal article Yeats Eliot Review

The Full or the Dark: An Analysis of Phases 1 & 15 in Yeats's System

Article excerpt

The two forces that constitute the "Principal Symbol"--the "Great Wheel" --namely, the primary and antithetical tinctures which, in their mutual opposition, create material existence, are known. However, our published knowledge tends to reiterate rather than explore the tinctures. This essay attempts to explore the ramifications of the tinctures and their 'pure states' (Phases 1 and 15), using the poems (CP), A Vision 1925 (VA), A Vision 1937 (VB) and Yeats's Vision Papers: Adams et al 1992a (YVP1); Adams et al 1992b (YVP2), Martinich et al 1992 (YVP3) and Harper & Harper 2001 (YVP4).


The fundamentals of the tinctures are introduced by Michael Robartes, in "The Phases of the Moon":

   Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
   The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,
   Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
   The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in;
   For there's no human life at the full or the dark.

(VB 60)

Some pages later in VB, Yeats identifies the respective phases of the "full or the dark": "The moonless night is called Phase 1, and the full moon is Phase 15" (VB 78) and he gives the reason why Phases 1 and 15 ("the full or the dark") do not produce material incarnations: "Phase 1 and Phase 15 are not human incarnations because human life is impossible without strife between the tinctures" (VB 79). Expressed in another way: "Life is the contact of contraries" (VNB1, p.83; YVP3 173). Phases 1 and 15 are thus discarnate.

Some pages earlier, Yeats had begun to give substance to the characteristics of the "full or the dark", and to introduce the terms 'primary' and 'antithetical':

   In what I call the cone of the Four Faculties which
   are what man has made in a past or present life--I
   shall speak later of what makes man--the subjective
   cone is called that of the antithetical tincture because
   it is achieved and defended by continual conflict
   with its opposite; the objective cone is called that of
   the primary tincture because whereas subjectivity--in
   Empedocles "Discord" as I think--tends to separate
   man from man, objectivity brings us back to the
   mass where we began.

(VB 71-72)

This simple introduction contains the essence of the distinction. Whereas the attainment of the antithetical tincture necessitates self and the separation of self from all others, the attainment of the primary tincture necessitates the obliteration of self and the collapse of the many into the one. In other words: "Anti is the individual. Primary is that which serves" (VNB1, p100; YVP3 180).

In Part III of Book I of VB, Yeats informs us that "Phase 1 not being human can better be described after Phase 28" (VB 105) and, in accordance with Yeats's identification of Phase 1 as an attainment at the end of the wheel, after Phase 28, our discussion will begin with the antithetical tincture, in its most pure form at Phase 15. Prior to his detailed discussion of each of the phases (in Book I, Part III, 'The Twenty-Eight Incarnations') Yeats offers the following remarks on Phase 15:

   Phase 15 is called Sun
   in Moon because the
   solar or primary tincture
   is consumed by
   the lunar, but from
   another point of view
   it is Mask consumed
   in Will; all is beauty. The Mask as it were wills itself
   as beauty, but because, as Plotinus says, things that
   are of one kind are unconscious, it is an ideal or
   supernatural incarnation.

(VB, 82)

The first proposition, that the primary is consumed by the antithetical, and the last proposition (that, as pure primary tincture, Phase 15 is supernatural rather than corporeal) are clear and simple. The middle propositions, "Mask [is] consumed in Will", and "Mask as it were wills itself as beauty" are neither clear nor simple in their context. For an elucidation of these processes, attention will be given to the Four Faculties, which act as a complex set of connecting devices that provide depth and elegance to the Great Wheel. …

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