Rosemary Colmer


Soyinka has been interested for many years in states of being which in some way correspond to what he refers to in a seminal essay as the 'fourth stage' of existence. He suggests that there are four stages of human existence: 'The past is the ancestors', the present belongs to the living, and the future to the unborn. The deities stand in the same situation to the living as do the ancestors and the unborn, obeying the same laws ... the fourth area of experience [is] the immeasurable gulf of transition.'' The fourth stage is that stage of existence which is neither ordinary human life, nor spirit existence, but somewhere between the two: the state of a man who represents a god or a spirit at a festival, for instance, or the state of a man who is passing between life and death in the process of dying or of arriving in this world. It is also the state of the gods as they make the perilous journey from heaven to earth, with Ogun clearing the way and fashioning the bridge — a myth on which Soyinka rests much of the weight of the argument about the nature of Yoruba tragedy which is the point of this essay.^ Priests, abiku children and some other special persons may be said to inhabit this fourth stage a great deal of the time, that is, they frequently pass beyond this living human existence to the area which is marginal to some other state of existence. The 'fourth stage' is, of its essence, marginal, a betwixt and between state of being. It is a stage of transition, a stage of disintegration and reintegration.



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