John Millington Synge: Quotations (1)

File 1

Extracts from the Works
When the Moon Has Set (1900)
Riders to the Sea (1904)
In the Shadow of the Glen (1903)
The Well of the Saints (1905)
The Playboy of the Western World (1907)
Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910)
The Aran Islands (1907)
On the Aran Islands [Notebook]
“The People of the Glens” (1907)
Preface to Poems and Translations
“A Landlord’s Country Garden in Wicklow”
“The Old and New in Ireland”
“Can We Go Back Into Our Mother’s Womb?”
“A Good Picture for Dublin”
“The Vagrants of Wicklow”

There is a digital edition of The Playboy of the Western World (1907) at The Univerisity of Adelaide EBooks - online; accessed 06.10.2017.]

Remarks on sundry subjects
Early aesthetics
Poetry (Synge’s theory)
Drama (Pref. to Playboy)
Humour & imagination
Villon and Burns
Religion and nationality
Catholic middle class
Irish Peasants
Religious feeling
Religious art
Life in Ireland
Western Ireland
Sexuality in Ireland
Women of Aran
Home-made wares
Irish language
His childhood
Irish Literary Revival
A chink in the floor ...
Ideas for The Playboy
The ‘Playboy riots’
Defending The Playboy
Parricide in The Playboy
Theatre business
‘Style’ defined
Life as music
Humanity in art
Peasant drama
“The Curse”
“Come a season …”

It was the choice of lives we had in the clear woods, and in the grave we’re safe surely.’ (“Deirdre of the Sorrows”.)

An unpublished letter to his mother
Pat Dirane’s stories (Aran Islands )

“Irish Classics” in the RICORSO Library
Riders to the Sea (1907) The Aran Islands (1907)

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Some characteristic remarks ...

Psychic memory: ‘Some dreams I have had in this cottage seem to give strength to the opinion that there is a psychic memory attached to certain neighbourhoods.’ (Aran Islands, 1907; Coll. Works, II, p.99.) Cf., ‘These people make no distinction between the natural and the supernatural.’ (Ibid., p.128.)

Inconceivable idea: ‘There is hardly an hour I am with them that I do not feel the shock of some inconceivable idea, and then again the shock of some vague emotion that is familiar to them and to me. On some days I feel this island as a perfect home and resting place; on other days I feel that I am a waif among the people. I can feel more with them than they can feel with me, and while I wander among them, they like me sometimes, and laugh at me sometimes, yet never know what I am doing.’ (Aran Islands, 1907; Coll. Works, II, p.99.)

Ruthless progress: ‘The thought that this island will gradually yield to the ruthlessness of “progress” is as the certainty that decaying age is moving always nearer the cheeks it is your ecstasy to kiss. How much of Ireland was formerly like this and how much of Ireland is today Anglicised and civilised and brutalised. Am I not leaving in Inishmaan spiritual treasures unexplored whose presence is a great magnet to my soul? In this ocean alone is [there] not every symbol of the cosmos?’ (Aran Notebook, in Collected Works [Vol. II] , Prose, ed. Alan Price, 1966, pp.102-03; quoted in Anne Gallagher, ‘Tramps, Tinkers and Beggars in the Plays of J. M. Synge’, UUC UG Diss., 2010; see further, infra.)

An Unpublished Letter from J. M. Synge to his Mother
Note: The following letter, written in 1903, was given to Sybil le Brocquy by Lilo Stephens in an envelope enscribed ‘with love and gratitude for all your help’. The gift was made in connection with the editing of Edwards Stephens’ life of Synge by Andrew Carpenter at a period when Mrs Stephens was going blind. The letter is currently in the possession of Mrs Melanie Stewart (née le Brocquy), who received it from her mother Sybil. It is copied here with her permission by Bruce Stewart, her son, the compiler of this resource.

My Dear Mother

 I was very glad to get your two letters but I did not try the Boarding House as that was not what I wanted. Board-Residence places abound in this neighbourhood and are fairly respectable and fairly cheap, but I dont think {page} [I] could stand that sort of thing now. You have to have your meals every day with the same set of people you get gradually to destest [sic]. This lodging where I am now seems to be satisfactory enough. I have a comfortable room at 14/0 including breakfast with bacon-egg, jam, etc. which I think is not excessive. The only drawback is that there is a door into the next room where an individual groans and giggles to himself as if he was off his head. However {page} he is only there at night and I believe he is going away soon so I make the best of him. My living here everything included will come very near two pounds a week, I dont think I can feed even fairly well for less. The restaurants are not very satisfactory or inviting, but perhaps when I know the place better I will find others that are more what I want. My expenses have been pretty heavy with all my pergrinations [sic] so I have only £1.5.0. in hand now and my lodging paid up to next Wednesday. My landlady seems inclined to be suspicious so I suppose I will have to pay her in advance for a while so I would be obliged if you could send me some money before Wednesday, but I think you had better not send a cheque as I would certainly have all sorts of bother with it. {page}
 I was with Yeats on Monday evening and met a great many writers artists etc. He has an At-Home night every Monday and a lot of people seem to go. Lady Gregory I believe is coming over this week.
  It has been very cold ever since I {page} came here with continual hard frost, but dry and not unpleasant. The unemployed walk about London in dreary endless processions everyday with collecting boxes. A curious end to their Maeflking [sic for Mafeking] days and all their decorations and triumph a little while ago!
  I dont feel as if I could ever tollorate [sic] {page} London for more than one season. I am quite interested to see it all for once[,] but compared with Paris it is dear and dirty and dismal to an incredible degree.
  I hope Ned and party are not the worse for their move, and that you are keeping well. Please dont forget the money as {page} otherwise I will be left in the lurch. I dont know what would be the best way of sending it. If you sent half-five-pound notes on Monday and Tuesday it would do very well or you could send P.O.s. I do not know whether you will get this tomorrow morning or in the evening.
  Your aff. son
                     John M. Synge.

See in separate window.

When the Moon Has Set (1901): ‘How many people ask to be forgiven for the most divine instant of their lives. Let us be wiser than they are. Here is the ring that was the sorrowful heirloom of my uncle.’ [...] ‘Give me your hand. I, the male power, have overcome with worship you, the soul of credulous feeling, the reader of the saints. From our harmonised discord new notes will rise. In the end we will assimilate with each other and grow senseless and old. We have incarnated God, and been a part of the world. That is enough. In the name of the summer, and the Sun, and the Whole World, I wed you as my wife.’ [He puts the ring on her finger. Curtain.] (See further quotations and details in Notes, infra).

Note: When the Moon is Set ed. David Clare (Co. Clare: Clare Press 2016) is a compilation-edition in two acts based on the various drafts and notes left by Synge and now held in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, (TCD MS 4351, 4352, 4382, 4389, 4391, & 4393). It has been mirrored as a PDF on the Classic Irish Plays website - online. [Accessed 03.06.2019].

When the Moon is Set - Final Scene

[ ...]
SISTER EILEEN. Oh, Bride’s aunt Mary. Please come in.
MARY. Thank you, Sister. It’s a grand thing to enter a warm house and speak with another living soul. My head’s perished with the night wind, and I do be lonesome the time I do be going the bog road, with the rabbits running round on it and they drowned with the dew.
SISTER EILEEN. Well, as someone must have told you, Albert Sweeney passed away recently, and he left a parcel for you, locked in an old box.
MARY. (Studying SISTER EILEEN closely.) You’re a fine handsome woman, God bless you, a fine beautiful woman I’m saying, and let you not be ashamed of it. SISTER EILEEN. (Sternly.) I am not ashamed. (Handing her the parcel.)
MARY. (Taking the parcel but still studying SISTER EILEEN.) And it’s a fine neck you have, Sister, though who’d know it at all and you covered round in black as if it was an old widow you were or the thing they put scaring the crows.
SISTER EILEEN is offended and does not respond. MARY opens the parcel to find a green wedding gown and a box with a ring in it.
MARY. (Sadly.) Tell us, what use are these to me now? ... (Plaintively.) There’s great marrying in the world but it’s late we were surely. A long rest to Albert, but he’s nothing to me now ... My mourning is for my children that wanted to live, God help them, if the nuns and the priests with them had let me be ... (Addressing SISTER EILEEN directly.) You know, Sister, I see my children sometimes when my head’s bad and I do be falling asleep. There are five of them. They’re always nice, Sister, with clean faces, and nice frocks on them and little sticks in their hands ... Ah, it’s queer things I do be seeing the time the moon is full.
SISTER EILEEN. (Letting go of her grievance and speaking with compassion.) Well, you’re safe from the cold and from distressing thoughts here ...
MARY. (She looks piteously at SISTER EILEEN, then sees the little cross she has hanging round her neck; she takes the cross in her hand.) Will you give me the little cross you have, Sister, for I’ve lost the one I had and I do be wanting the like of it to sit and hold in my hand. (SISTER EILEEN gives it to her.) ... May the Almighty God reward you, Sister, and give you five nice children before you die. (She gives SISTER EILEEN the box with the ring in it.) ... My blessing be on that ring, and it going on your hand, and my blessing be on your hand and it working with the linen when the time is come. (She looks at the crucifix in her hand.) ... This will be a quiet thing to be looking on, and it’ll keep me still the long evenings when the moon is low, and there do be white mists passing on the bog, the time the little children who live in my dreams do be lepping, and crying out to each other, and making games in the dark night, and no Christian waking but myself only, and the white geese you’d hear a mile or maybe two mile away and they making a great stir over the bog. (She moves towards the door.) ... I’ll be going now I’m thinking, for I’ve a long way and this will be keeping me company in the dark lane through the wood. God save you kindly, Sister. Let you mind the words I was saying now and give no heed to the priests and bishops, for it’s little the like of them knows about women or the seven sorrows of the earth. (Exit left.)

SISTER EILEEN is shocked. She paces around the room, thinking. Eventually, she takes the green gown and the ring box in her hands and exits by the door on the right. After a few moments, COLUMB enters from the left, takes off his coat, and begins to examine the books on the shelves. SISTER EILEEN comes in behind him from the door on the right in the green silk dress which is cut low at the neck.

SISTER EILEEN. (In a low voice.) Columb, I have come back to you.
COLUMB. (Turning towards her.) You are infinitely beautiful, and you have done a great action ... (They meet in the middle of the room and gaze into each other’s eyes; eventually, COLUMB speaks.) Listen to the tumult the birds are making in the trees. This is our marriage hymn. Without love this world would be a lonesome sandhill, and a soul without love is not a great deal better ... Speak to me. I want to hear you; your voice will have a new cadence from today.
SISTER EILEEN. I seem to be in a dream that is wider than I am. I hope God will forgive me. I cannot help it.
COLUMB. How many people ask to be forgiven for the most divine instant of their lives. Let us be wiser than they are. SISTER EILEEN. (Handing him the ring) This is the ring your uncle was to give to Mary Costello.
COLUMB. (Softly) Give me your hand ... I, the masculine disciple of art, have overcome with worship you, the feminine scion of faith. From our harmonised discord new notes will rise. In the end we will assimilate each other and grow senseless and old. We have incarnated God, and have been a part of the world. That is enough. (He takes her hand.) In the name of the Summer, and the Sun, and the Whole World, I wed you as my wife. (He puts the ring on her finger.)


Available at Classic Irish Plays - online; accessed.

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Riders to the Sea (1904)
Persons (original cast)
MAURYA (an old woman) - Honor Lavelle
BARTLEY (her son) - W. G. Fay
CATHLEEN (her daughter).... Sarah Allgood
NORA (a younger daughter).. Emma Vernon

Scene: An Island off the West of Ireland. (Cottage kitchen, with nets, oil-skins, spinning wheel, some new boards standing by the wall, etc. Cathleen, a girl of about twenty, finishes kneading cake, and puts it down in the pot-oven by the fire; then wipes her hands, and begins to spin at the wheel. Nora, a young girl, puts her head in at the door.)

MAURYA. I seen Michael himself.
CATHLEEN (speaking softly). You did not, mother; It wasn’t Michael you seen, for his body is after being found in the far north, and he’s got a clean burial by the grace of God.
MAURYA (a little defiantly). I’m after seeing him this day, and he riding and galloping. Bartley came first on the red mare; and I tried to say “God speed you,” but something choked the words in my throat. He went by quickly; and “the blessing of God on you,” says he, and I could say nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony, and there was Michael upon it—with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet. [Synge, The Complete Plays (London: Eyre Methuen Ltd, 1981), p.103]
CATHLEEN (begins to keen). It’s destroyed we are from this day. It’s destroyed, surely.
NORA. Didn’t the young priest say the Almighty God wouldn’t leave her destitute with no son living?
MAURYA (in a low voice, but clearly). It’s little the like of him knows of the sea. ... Bartley will be lost now, and let you call in Eamon and make me a good coffin out of the white boards, for I won’t live after them. I’ve had a husband, and a husband’s father, and six sons in this house—six fine men, though it was a hard birth I had with every one of them and they coming to the world—and some of them were found and some of them were not found, but they’re gone now the lot of them....There were Stephen, and Shawn, were lost in the great wind, and found after in the Bay of Gregory of the Golden Mouth, and carried up the two of them on the one plank, and in by that door. (She pauses for a moment, the girls start as if they heard something through the door that is half open behind them.)
NORA (in a whisper). Did you hear that, CATHLEEN? Did you hear a noise in the north-east?
CATHLEEN (in a whisper). There’s some one after crying out by the seashore.
MAURYA (continues without hearing anything). There was Sheamus and his father, and his own father again, were lost in a dark night, and not a stick or sign was seen of them when the sun went up. There was Patch after was drowned out of a curagh that turned over. Iwas sitting here with Bartley, and he a baby, lying on my two knees, and I seen two women, and three women, and four women coming in, and they crossing themselves, and not saying a word. I looked out then, and there were men coming after them, and they holding a thing in the half of a red sail, and water dripping out of it—it was a dry day, NORA—and leaving a track to the door. (She pauses again with her hand stretched out towards the door. It opens softly and old women begin to come in, crossing themselves on the threshold, and kneeling down in front of the stage with red petticoats over their heads.)
MAURYA (half in a dream, to CATHLEEN). Is it Patch, or Michael, or what is it at all?
CATHLEEN. Michael is after being found in the far north, and when he is found there how could he be here in this place?
MAURYA. There does be a power of young men floating round in the sea, and what way would they know if it was Michael they had, or another man like him, for when a man is nine days in the sea, and the wind blowing, it’s hard set his own mother would be to say what man was it.
CATHLEEN. It’s Michael, God spare him, for they’re after sending us a bit of his clothes from the far north. (She reaches out and hands MAURYA the clothes that -belonged to Michael. MAURYA stands up slowly and takes them in her hands. NORA looks out.)
NORA. They’re carrying a thing among them and there’s Water dripping Out of it and leaving a track by the big stones.
CATHLEEN (in a whisper to the women who have come in). Is it Bartley it is?
ONE OF THE WOMEN. It is surely, God rest his soul. (Two younger women come in and pull out the table. Then men carry in the body of Bartley, laid on a plank, with a bit of a sail over it, and lay it on the table.)
CATHLEEN (to the women, as they are doing so). What way was he drowned?
ONE OF THE WOMEN. The gray pony knocked him into the sea, and he was washed out where there is a great surf on the white rocks. (MAURYA has gone over and knelt down at the head of the table. The women are keening softly and swaying themselves with a slow movement. CATHLEEN and NORA kneel at the other end of the table. The men kneel near the door.)
MAURYA (raising her head and speaking as if she did not see the people around her). They’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me. ... I’ll have no call now to be up crying and praying when the wind breaks from the south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, and the surf is in the west, making a great stir with the two noises, and they hitting one on the other. I’ll have no call now to be going down and getting Holy Water in the dark nights after Samhain, and I won’t care what way the sea is when the other women will be keening. (To NORA.) Give me the Holy Water, NORA, there’s a small sup still on the dresser. (NORA gives it to her.)
MAURYA (drops Michael’s clothes across Bartley’s feet, and sprinkles the Holy Water over him). It isn’t that I haven’t prayed for you, Bartley, to the Almighty God. It isn’t that I haven’t said prayers in the dark night till you wouldn’t know what I’ld be saying; but it’s a great rest I’ll have now, and it’s time surely. It’s a great rest I’ll have now, and great sleeping in the long nights after Samhain, if it’s only a bit of wet flour we do have to eat, and maybe a fish that would be stinking. (She kneels down again, crossing herself, and saying prayers under her breath.)
CATHLEEN (to an old man). Maybe yourself and Eamon would make a coffin when the sun rises. We have fine white boards herself bought, God help her, thinking Michael would be found, and I have a new cake you can eat while you’ll be working.
THE OLD MAN (looking at the boards). Are there nails with them?
CATHLEEN. There are not, Colum; we didn’t think of the nails.
ANOTHER MAN. It’s a great wonder she wouldn’t think of the nails, and all the coffins she’s seen made already.
CATHLEEN. It’s getting old she is, and broken. (MAURYA stands up again very slowly and spreads out the pieces of Michael’s clothes beside the body, sprinkling them with the last of the Holy Water.)
NORA (in a whisper to CATHLEEN). She’s quiet now and easy; but the day Michael was drowned you could hear her crying out from this to the spring well. It’s fonder she was of Michael, and would any one have thought that?
CATHLEEN (slowly and clearly). An old woman will be soon tired with anything she will do, and isn’t it nine days herself is after crying and keening, and making great sorrow in the house?
MAURYA (puts the empty cup mouth downwards on the table, and lays her hands together on Bartley’s feet). They’re all together this time, and the end is come. May the Almighty God have mercy on Bartley’s soul, and on Michael’s soul, and on the souls of Sheamus and Patch, and Stephen and Shawn (bending her head); and may He have mercy on my soul, NORA, and on the soul of every one is left living in the world. (She pauses, and the keen rises a little more loudly from the women, then sinks away.)
MAURYA (continuing). Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God. Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the white boards, and a deep grave surely. What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied. (She kneels down again and the curtain fails slowly.)

Collected Works, Plays I (Oxford UP 1968), p.27; for full text, see Library, “Classic Irish Texts”, infra.]

Some lines ..
[MAURYA:] ‘It’s the life of a young man to be going on the sea.’ (Writings of J. M. Synge, Dent Edn., 1991 p.24.)
MAURYA: ‘They are all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me’ (p.30).
MAURYA: ‘It’s a great rest I’ll have now, and great sleeping in the long mights after Samhain, if it’s only a bit of wet flour we do hav to eat, and maybe a fish that would be stinking.’ (p.30).
MAURYA: ‘What more can we want than that? No man can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied.’ (p.31 [END].

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In the Shadow of the Glen (1903)
Persons (original cast.)
DAN BURKE(farmer and herd) - George Roberts
NORA BURKE (his wife) - Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh
MICHEAL DARA (a young herd) - P. J. Kelly
A TRAMP - W. G. Fay

Scene: The last cottage at the head of a long glen in County Wicklow. Cottage kitchen: turf fire on the right; a bed near it against the wall with a body lying on it covered with a sheet [...&c.] She opens the door.

NORA: ‘[...] when you do be sitting looking out from a door the like of that door, and seeing nothing but the mists rolling down the bog, and the mists again, and they rolling up the bog, and hearing nothing but the wind crying out in the bits of broken trees left from the great storm, and the streams roaring with the rain.’ (Collected Works, Plays: I, 1968, p.49).

TRAMP: ‘You’ll not be getting your death with myself, lady of the house, and I knowing all the ways a man can put food in his mouth. … We’ll be going now, I’m telling you, and the time you’ll be feeling the cold, and the frost, and the great rain and the sun again, and the south wind blowing in the glens, you’ll not be sitting up in a wet ditch, the way you’re after sitting in this place making yourself old with looking on each day, and it passing you by. You’ll be saying one time, “It’s evening, by the grace of God”, and another time “It’s a wild night, God help us; but it’ll pass surely”. You’ll be saying -’ (Ibid., p.57.)

NORA: ‘I’m thinking it’s myself will be wheezing that time with lying down under the Heavens when the night is cold, but you’ve a fine bit of talk, stranger, and its with yourself I’ll go. […] what is it you’ll have now but a black life, Daniel Burke, and it’s not long, I’m telling you, till you’ll be lying again under that sheet, and you dead surely.’ (Idem.)

Quotations in Wikipedia
  • .. isn’t a dead man itself more company than to be sitting alone, and hearing the winds crying, and you not knowing on what thing your mind would stay? — Nora
  • Maybe cold would be no sign of death with the like of him, for he was always cold, every day since I knew him — and every night, stranger — Nora
  • For what good is a bit of a farm with cows on it, and sheep on the back hills, when you do be sitting looking out from a door the like of that door, and seeing nothing but the mists rolling down the bog, and the mists again, and they rolling up the bog, and hearing nothing but the wind crying out in the bits of broken trees were left from the great storm, and the streams roaring with the rain. — Nora

Plot: A tramp seeking shelter in the Burkes' isolated farmhouse finds Nora tending to the corpse of Dan. Nora goes out to find Michael, and Dan reveals to the tramp that his death is a mere ruse. He plays dead again when Nora and Michael return, but leaps up in protest when Michael proposes to Nora. Dan kicks Nora out to wander the roads and she leaves with the tramp, who promises her a life of freedom.

Available online; accessed 27.09.2021.

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Well of the Saints (1905)

MARTIN DHOUL (a little plaintively), ‘I do be thinking in the long nights it’s be a grand thing if we could see ourselves for one hour, or a minute itself, the way we’d know surely we were the finest man, and the finest woman, of the seven counties of the east … [bitterly] and then the seeing rabble below might be destroying their souls telling bad lies, and we’d never heed a thing they’d say.’ (Collected Works [Vol. III], Plays: I, 1968, p.73.)
MARY DHOUL: ‘Maybe they’re hanging a thief, above at the bit of a tree? I’m told it’s a great sight to see a man hanging by his neck, but what joy would that be to ourselves, and we not seeing it at all?’ (Ibid., p.77.)
TIMMY [anxiously ]: ‘God help him […] What will he be doing when he sees his wife this day? I’m thinking it was bad work we did when [91] we let on she was fine-looking, and not a wrinkled wizen hag the way she is.’ (Ibid., pp.91-93).
MARY DHOUL: ‘I’m thinking it’s a poor thing when the Lord God gives you sight, and puts the like of that man in your way.’ (Ibid., p.97).
MARTIN DHOUL: ‘I do be thinking it should be a hard thing for the almighty God to be looking on the world, bad days, and on men the like of yourself walking around on it, and they slipping each way in the muck.’ (Collected Plays, Middlesex: Penguin 1952, p.106.)
MARY DHOUL [on seeing her husband for the first time]: ‘I’m thinking it’s a poor thing when the Lord God gives you sight and puts the like of that man in your way. (Quoted in Chris Morash, review of Druid Production of The Tinker’s Wedding [1909], Dublin Th. Fest., Oct. 2004, in Times Lit. Supplement, 22 Oct. 2004, p.19.)
MARY DHOUL [to Molly Byrne]: ‘It’s them that’s fat and flabby do be wrinkled young, and that whitish yellow hair she had does be soon turning the like of a handful of thin grass you’d see rotting, where the [we] lies, at the north of a sty. […] Ah isn’t it a grand thing for the like of your make to be setting fools mad a short while, and then to be turning a thing will drive the little children from your feet.’ (Ibid., Act II, p.121.)
MARTIN DHOUL: ‘The devil mend Mary Dhoul for putting lies on me, and letting on she was grand. The devil mend the old saint for letting me see it was lies.’ (Ibid., Act III, p.124).
MARTIN DHOUL [fiercely], ‘Isn’t it finer sights ourselves had a while since and we sitting dark smelling the sweet beautiful smells do be rising in the warm night and hearing the swift flying things racing in the air [Saint draws back from him ] till we’d be looking up in our own minds into a grand sky, and seeing lakes, and broadening rivers, and hills are waiting for the spade and plough.’ (Ibid., p.141.)
MARTIN DHOUL: ‘We’re going surely, for if it’s a right some of you have to be working and sweating the likes of Timmy the Smith, and a right some of you have to be fasting and praying and talking holy talk the like of yourself, I’m thinking its a good right ourselves have to be sitting blind, hearing soft wind turning round the little leaves of the spring and feeling the sun, and we not tormenting our souls with the sight of the grey days, and the holy men, and the dirty feet is tramping the world.’ (Ibid., p.149).
MARTIN DHOUL: ‘Grand day, is it? … or a bad black day when I was roused up and found I was the like of the little children do be listening to the stories of an old woman, and do be dreaming after in the dark nights that it’s in grand houses of gold they are, with speckled horses to ride, and do be waking again in a short while and they destroyed with the cold, and the thatch dripping, maybe, and the starved ass braying in the yard?’ (T. R. Henn, ed., Plays and Poems of J. M. Synge, 1963, p.153; quoted by Anthony Roche, ‘The Two Worlds of Synge’s The Well of Saints’, in The Genres of Irish Literary Revival, ed. Ronald Schleifer, Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1980, p.30.

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The Playboy of the Western World (1907)
See full-text version in Ricorso Library > Authors > “Irish Classics” - J.M. Synge - via index or as attached.
Preface to The Playboy of the Western World (1907)

In writing THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD, as in my other plays, I have used one or two words only that I have not heard among the country people of Ireland, or spoken in my own nursery before I could read the newspapers. A certain number of the phrases I employ I have heard also from herds and fishermen along the coast from Kerry to Mayo, or from beggar-women and balladsingers nearer Dublin; and I am glad to acknowledge how much I owe to the folk imagination of these fine people. Anyone who has lived in real intimacy with the Irish peasantry will know that the wildest sayings and ideas in this play are tame indeed, compared with the fancies one may hear in any little hillside cabin in Geesala, or Carraroe, or Dingle Bay. All art is a collaboration; and there is little doubt that in the happy ages of literature, striking and beautiful phrases were as ready to the story-teller’s or the playwright’s hand, as the rich cloaks and dresses of his time. It is probable that when the Elizabethan dramatist took his ink-horn and sat down to his work he used many phrases that he had just heard, as he sat at dinner, from his mother or his children. In Ireland, those of us who know the people have the same privilege. When I was writing The Shadow of the Glen, some years ago, I got more aid than any learning could have given me from a chink in the floor of the old Wicklow house where I was staying, that let me hear what was being said by the servant girls in the kitchen. This matter, I think, is of importance, for in countries where the imagination of the people, and the language they use, is rich and living, it is possible for a writer to be rich and copious in his words, and at the same time to give the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form. In the modern literature of towns, however, richness is found only in sonnets, or prose poems, or in one or two elaborate books that are far away from the profound and common interests of life. One has, on one side, Mallarmé and Huysmans producing this literature; and on the other, Ibsen and Zola dealing with the reality of life in joyless and pallid words. On the stage one must have reality, and one must have joy; and that is why the intellectual modern drama has failed, and people have grown sick of the false joy of the musical comedy, that has been given them in place of the rich joy found only in what is superb and wild in reality. In a good play every speech should be as fully flavoured as a nut or apple, and such speeches cannot be written by anyone who works among people who have shut their lips on poetry. In Ireland, for a few years more, we have a popular imagination that is fiery and magnificent, and tender; so that those of us who wish to write start with a chance that is not given to writers in places where the springtime of the local life has been forgotten, and the harvest is a memory only, and the straw has been turned into bricks.

J. M. S. January 21st, 1907.


PEGEEN MIKE: ‘If you weren’t destroyed travelling, you’d have as much talk and streeleen, I’m thinking, as Owen Roe O’Sullivan or the poets of the Dingle Bay. I’ve heard all times its the poets are like you - fine fiery fellows with great rages when their temper’s roused. (Coll. Works, II, p.81; cited Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.170.)
CHRISTY [on his ‘match’ in Mayo:] ‘A walking terror from beyond the hills, and she two score and five years, and two hundred weights and five pounds in the weighing scales, with a limping leg on her, and a blinded eye, and she a woman of noted misbehaviour with the old and young … “I won’t wed her,” says I, “when all know she did suckle me for six weeks when I came into the world, and she a hag this day with a tongue on her has the crows and seabirds scattered, the way they wouldn’t cast a shadow on her garden with the dread of her curse”’.

[The Love Scene]
CHRISTY: ‘[…] when the airs is warming, in four months or five, it’s then yourself and me should be pacing Neifin in the dews of night, the times sweet smells do be rising, and you’d see a little shiny new moon, maybe sinking on the hills.’
PEGEEN: (Looking at him playfully) ‘And it’s that kind of a poacher’s love you’d make, Christy Mahon, on the sides of Neifin, when the night is down?’
CHRISTY: It’s little you’ll think if my love’s a poacher’s, or an earl’s itself, when you’ll feel my two hands stretched around you, and I squeezing kisses on your puckered lips, till I’d feel a kind of pity for the Lord God is all ages sitting lonesome in His golden chair.’
PEGEEN: ‘That’ll be right fun, Christy Mahon, and any girl would walk her heart out before she’d meet a young man was your like for eloquence, or talk at all.’
CHRISTY (encouraged): ‘Let you wait, to hear me talking, till we’re astray in Erris, when Good Friday’s by, drinking a sup from a well, and making mighty kisses with our wetted mouths, or gaming in a gap of sunshine, with yourself stretched back unto your necklace, in the flowers of the earth.’
PEGEEN (in a low voice, moved by his tone): ‘I’d be nice so, is it?’
CHRISTY (with rapture): ‘If the mitred bishops seen you that time, they’d be the like of the holy prophets, I’m thinking, do be straining the bars of paradise to lay eyes on the Lady Helen of Troy, and she abroad, pacing back and forward, with a nosegay in her golden shawl.’
PEGEEN (with real tenderness): ‘And what is it I have, Christy Mahon, to make me fitting entertainment for the like of you, that has such poet’s talking, and such bravery of heart.’
CHRISTY: (in a low voice): ‘Isn’t there the light of seven heavens in your heart alone, the way you’ll be an angel’s lamp to me from this out, and I abroad in the darkness, spearing salmons in the Owen or the Carrowmore?’

Various lines

CHRISTY: ‘It’s Pegeen I’m seeking only, and what’d I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself maybe, from this place to the eastern world’ (Collected Works, Vol. IV, 1968 [Plays: II], p.167; and note typescript version, ‘stripped itself’; see Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.183).
PEGEEN: ‘I’ll say a strange man’s a marvel, with his mighty talk; but what’s [sic] a squabble in your backyard, and the blow of a loy, have taught me there’s a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed’ (CW, IV p.169).
JIMMY: ‘Bravery’s a treasure in a lonesome place, and a lad would kill his father, I’m thinking, would face a foxy devil with a pitchpike on the flags of hell’; also ‘slew his da’.
CHRISTY: ‘I was lonesome all times, and born lonesome, I’m thinking, as the moon of dawn.’ (CW, IV [Plays II], 1968, p.111.)
CHRISTY: ‘Go with you, is it! I will then, like a gallant captain with his heathen slave. Go on now and I’ll see you from this day stewing my oatmeal and washing my spuds, for I’m master of all fights from now. [Pushing Mahon] Go on, I’m saying.’ (CW, IV 1968 [Plays II], p.173.)
CHRISTY: ‘Ten thousand blessings upon all that’s here, for you’ve turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way I’ll go romancing through a romping lifetime from this hour to the dawning of the judgement day.’ (CW, Plays, IV, p.173.)
PEGEEN MIKE [to Shawn]: ‘Quit my sight. [Putting her shawl over her head and breaking out into wild lamentations.] Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only playboy of the western world.’ (CW, IV, 1968, [Plays II], p.173; vide ‘[…] shying clods against the visage of the stars’. (Old Mahon, q.p.)

Closing scene

WIDOW QUIN (to Christie): ‘You’d best quit off and not have that poor girl setting her mind on you, for there’s Shaneen thinks she wouldn’t suit you, though all is saying that she’ll wed you now.’ (Christie beams with delight).

SHAWN: ‘She wouldn’t suit you, and she with the devil’s own temper the way you’d be strangling one another in a score of days. It’s the like of me only that she’s fit for; a quiet simple fellow wouldn’t raise a hand upon her if she scratched itself.’ [Papers of Alan Warner].

CHRISTY: ‘[...] For if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse to go mixing with the fools of the earth’ [...]

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Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910)
‘I am Deirdre of the Sorrows’*

DEIRDRE: ‘Do many know what is foretold, that Deirdre will be the ruin of the sons of Usna, and have a little grave by herself, and a story that will be told for ever?’ (Ibid., p.189).
LAVARCHAM: ‘Are you raving, Deirdre? Are you choosing this night to destroy the world? (Ibid., p.191).
OWEN: […] there are many roads, Deirdre, and I tell you I’d liefer be bleaching in a bog-hole than living on without a touch of kindness from your eyes and voice. It’s a poor thing to be so lomesome you’d squeeze kisses on a cur dog’s nose.’ (Ibid., p.195).
DEIRDRE [deciding to return from Alban to Ireland]: ‘It is my wish … It may be I will not have Naisi growing an old man in Alban with an old woman at his side … It may be we do well putting a sharp end to the day is brave and glorious, as our fathers put a sharp end to the day’s of the king of Ireland … (Ibid., p.202.)
DEIRDRE: ‘It is a sweet thing to have the best and richest, even if it is for a short time only.’ (q.p.)
DEIRDRE: ‘Isn’t it a small thing is foretell about ruin of ourselves, Naisi, when all men age coming and great ruin in the end?’
DEIRDRE: ‘There’s no place to stay always […] It’s a long time we’ve had, pressing the lips together, going up and down, resting in our arms, Naisi, waking with the smell of June in the tops of the grasses, and listening to the birds in the branches that are highest […] It’s a long time we’ve had, but the end has come surely.’ (Coll. Works, Vol. 4, Plays: Book II, p.231; quoted in Christopher Murray, ‘''The Choice of Lives”: O'Casey versus Synge', in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan] (2002, p.74.)
DEIRDRE: ‘I’ve dread going or staying, Lavarcham. It’s lonesome in this place, having happiness like ours, till I’m asking each day will this day match yesterday, and will tomorrow take a good place beside that same day in the year that’s gone, and wondering all times is it a game worth playing, living on until you’re dried and old, and our joy is gone for ever’.
DEIRDRE: ‘Is it a better thing to be following on to a near death, than to be bending the head down, and dragging with the feet, and seeing one day a blight showing upon love where it is sweet and tender?’

DEIRDRE: ‘A sharp end to the day is brave and glorious, as our fathers put a sharp end to the days of the kings of Ireland … a story will be told forever’; ‘It was sorrows foretold, but great joys were my share always … It is a pitiful thing, Conchubor, that you have done this night in Emain; [but] thing will be a joy and triumph to the ends of life and time.’ (Coll. Works, Plays, Vol. II, 1968, p.269.)

*Synge, Writings, ed. Smith Alison, Collected Plays and Poems (Dent Edn., 1991, 1996), p.188.

The People of the Glens” (1907): ‘Even among the older people, whose singular charm I have tried to interpret, it should perhaps be added that it is possible to find many individuals who are far from admirable in temper or morals. One would hardly stoop to assert a fact so obvious if it had not become the fashion in Dublin, quite recently, to exalt the Irish peasant into a type of absolute virtue, frugal, self-sacrificing, valiant, and I know not what.’ (In The Shanachie, Vol. II, 1907, p.47; quoted in Una Kealy, “George Fitzmaurice”, PhD Thesis, UU 2005; see also infra.)

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The Aran Islands (1907): ‘After Mass this morning an old woman was buried. She lived in the cottage next mine, and more than once before noon I heard a faint echo of the keen. I did not go to the wake for fear my presence might jar upon the mourners, but all last evening I could hear the strokes of a hammer in the yard, where, in the middle of a little crowd of idlers, the next of kin laboured slowly at the coffin. To-day, before the hour of the funeral, poteen was served to a number of men who stood about upon the road, and a portion was brought to me in my room. Then the coffin was carried out sewn loosely in sailcloth, and held near the ground by three cross-poles lashed upon the top. As we moved down to the low eastern portion of the island, nearly all the men, and all the oldest women, wearing petticoats over their heads, came out and joined in the procession. / While the grave was being opened the women sat down among the flat tombstones, bordered with a pale fringe of early bracken, and began the wild keen, or crying for the dead. Each old woman, as she took her turn in the leading recitative, seemed possessed for the moment with a profound ecstasy of grief, swaying to and fro, and bending her forehead to the stone before her, while she called out to the dead with a perpetually recurring chant of sobs. / All round the graveyard other wrinkled women, looking out from under the deep red petticoats that cloaked them, rocked themselves with the same rhythm, and intoned the inarticulate chant that is sustained by all as an accompaniment. / The morning had been beautifully fine, but as they lowered the coffin into the grave, thunder rumbled overhead and hailstones hissed among the bracken. / In Inishmaan one is forced to believe in a sympathy between man and nature, and at this moment when the thunder sounded a death-peal of extraordinary grandeur above the voices of the women, I could see the faces near me stiff and drawn with emotion. / When the coffin was in the grave, and the thunder had rolled away across the hills of Clare, the keen broke out again more passionately than before. / This grief of the keen is no personal complaint for the death of one woman over eighty years, but seems to contain the whole passionate rage that lurks somewhere in every native of the island. In this cry of pain the inner consciousness of the people seems to lay itself bare for an instant, and to reveal the mood of beings who feel their isolation in the face of a universe that wars on them with winds and seas. They are usually silent, but in the presence of death all outward show of indifference or patience is forgotten, and they shriek with pitiable despair before the horror of the fate to which they all are doomed. / Before they covered the coffin an old man kneeled down by the grave and repeated a simple prayer for the dead. / There was an irony in these words of atonement and Catholic belief spoken by voices that were still hoarse with the cries of pagan desperation. / A little beyond the grave I saw a line of old women who had recited in the keen sitting in the shadow of a wall beside the roofless shell of the church. They were still sobbing and shaken with grief, yet they were beginning to talk again of the daily trifles that veil from them the terror of the world. / When we had all come out of the graveyard, and two men had rebuilt the hole in the wall through which the coffin had been carried in, we walked back to the village, talking of anything, and joking of anything, as if merely coming from the boat-slip, or the pier.’ (Four Plays and the Aran Islands, London 1962, pp.190-92; cited in Seamus Heaney, ‘A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on The Irish Literary Revival’, in P. J. Drury, ed., Irish Studies, I, Cambridge UP 1980, pp.6-7.)

Further, ‘When [the grave] was nearly deep enough, the old woman got up and came back to the coffin and began to beat on it, holding up the skull [of her daughter which had been unearthed] in the left hand. The last moment of grief was the most terrible. The young women were nearly lying among the stones, worn out with the passion of their grief, yet raising themselves every few moments to beat with magnificent gestures on the board of the coffin.’ (“The Aran Islands”, in Collected Works, II, p.161; see Fiona Macintosh, Dying Acts, 1994, p.35. Note: Macintosh compares this with a passage in W. K. Sullivan’s comments on professional mourners in his Introduction to O’Curry’s Manners and Customs, 1873, Vol. 1, p.cxxxiv.)

See J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands (1907) - more extracts [attached]

The Aran Islands (1907) - cont.: “The Evictions” [see title of b&w engraving, pl. p.90]: ‘[…] When the anchor had been thrown it gave me a strange throb of pain to see the boats being lowered, and the sunshine gleaming on the rifles and helmets of the constabulary who crowded into them. / Once on shore the men were formed in close marching order, a word was given, and the heavy rhythm of their boots came up over the rocks. We were collected in two straggling bands on [88] either side of the roadway, and a few moments later the body of magnificent armed men passed close to us, followed by a low rabble, who had been brought to act as drivers for the sheriff. / After my weeks spent among primitive men this glimpse of the newer types of humanity was not reassuring. Yet these mechanical police, with the commonplace agents and sheriffs, and the rabble they had hired, represented aptly enough the civilisation for which the homes of the island were to be desecrated. / A stop was made at one of the first cottages in the village, and the day’s work began. Here, however, and at the next cottage, a compromise was made, as some relatives came up at the last moment and lent the money that was needed to gain a respite. / In another case a girl was ill in the house, so the doctor interposed, and the people were allowed to remain after a merely formal eviction. About midday, however, a house was reached where there was no pretext for mercy, and no money could be procured. At a sign from the sheriff the work of carrying out the beds and utensils was begun in the middle of a crowd of natives who looked on in absolute silence, broken only by the wild imprecations of the woman of the house. She belonged to one of the most primitive families on the island, and she shook with uncontrollable fury as she saw the strange armed men who spoke a language she could not understand driving her from the hearth she had brooded on for thirty years. For these people the outrage to the hearth is the supreme catastrophe. They live here in a world of grey, where there are wild rains and mists every week in the year, and their warm chimney corners, filled with children and young girls, grow into the consciousness of each family in a way it is not easy to understand in more civilised places. / The outrage to a tomb in China probably gives no greater shock to the Chinese than the outrage to a hearth in Inishmaan gives to the people. / When the few trifles had been carried out, and the door blocked with stones, the old woman sat down by the threshold and covered her head with her shawl. / Five or six other women who lived close by sat down in a circle round her, with mute sympathy. Then the crowd moved on with the police to another cottage where the same scene was to take place, and left the group of desolate women sitting by the hovel. [89; ill: “The Evictions”, p.90] / There were still no clouds in the sky and the heat was intense. The police when not in motion lay sweating and gasping under the walls with their tunics unbuttoned. They were not attractive, and I kept comparing them with the islandmen, who walked up and down as cool and fresh-looking as the sea-gulls. / When the last eviction had been carried out a division was made: half the party went off with the bailiff to search the inner plain of the island for the cattle that had been hidden in the morning, the other half remained on the village road to guard some pigs that had already been taken possession of. / After a while two of these pigs escaped from the drivers and began a wild race up and down the narrow road. The people shrieked and howled to increase their terror, and at last some of them became so excited that the police thought it time to interfere. They drew up in double line opposite the mouth of a blind laneway where the animals had been shut up. A moment later the shrieking began again in the west and the two pigs came in sight, rushing down the middle of the road with the drivers behind them. / They reached the line of the police. There was a slight scuffle, and then the pigs continued their mad rush to the east, leaving three policemen lying in the dust. / The satisfaction of the people was immense. They shrieked and hugged each other with delight, and it is likely that they will hand down these animals for generations in the tradition of the island. / Two hours later the other party returned, driving three lean cows before them, and a start was made for the slip. At the public-house the policemen were given a drink while the dense crowd that was following waited in the lane. The island bull happened to be in a field close by, and he became wildly excited at the sight of the cows and of the strangely-dressed men. Two young islanders sidled up to me in a moment or two as I was resting on a wall, and one of them whispered in my ear - 'Do you think they could take fines of us if we let out the bull on them?’ / In face of the crowd of women and children, I could only say it was probable, and they slunk off. / At the slip there was a good deal of bargaining, which ended in all the cattle being given back to their owners. It was plainly of no use to take them away, as they were worth nothing. [91] / When the last policeman had embarked, an old woman came forward from the crowd and, mounting on a rock near the slip, began a fierce rhapsody in Gaelic, pointing at the bailiff and waving her withered arms with extraordinary rage. / “This man is my own son,” she said; “it is I that ought to know him. He is the first ruffian in the whole big world.” / Then she gave an account of his life, coloured with a vindictive fury I cannot reproduce. As she went on the excitement became so intense I thought the man would be stoned before he could get back to his cottage. / On these islands the women live only for their children, and it is hard to estimate the power of the impulse that made this old woman stand out and curse her son. / In the fury of her speech I seem to look again into the strangely reticent temperament of the islanders, and to feel the passionate spirit that expresses itself, at odd moments only, with magnificent words and gestures.’ (The Aran Islands, in Collected Works, II [Prose], OUP 1966, pp.88-92.)

See J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands (1907) - more extracts [attached]

[The Man who killed his Da:] ‘Another old man, the oldest on the island, is fond of telling me anecdotes - not folktales - of things that have happened here in his lifetime. / He often tells me about a Connaught man who killed his father with the blow of a spade when he was in passion, and then fled to this island and threw himself on the mercy of some of the natives with whom he was said to be related. They hid him in a hole - which the old man has shown me - and kept him safe for weeks, though the police came and searched for him, and he could hear their boots grinding on the stones over his head. In spite of a reward which was offered, the island was incorruptible, and after much trouble the man was safely shipped to America. / This impulse to protect the criminal is universal in the west. It seems partly due to the association between justice and the hated English jurisdiction, but more directly to the primitive feeling of these people, who are never criminals yet always capable of crime, that a man will not do wrong unless he is under the influence of a passion which is as irresponsible as a storm on the sea. If a man has killed his father, and is already sick and broken with remorse, they can see no reason why he should be dragged away and killed by the law. / Such a man, they say, will be quiet all the rest of his life, and if you suggest that punishment is needed as an example, they ask, “Would any one kill his father if he was able to help it?” / Some time ago, before the introduction of police, all the people of the islands were as innocent as the people here remain to this day. I have heard that at that time the ruling proprietor and magistrate of the north island used to give any man who had done wrong a letter to a jailer in Galway, and send him off by himself to serve a term of imprisonment. / As there was no steamer, the ill-doer was given a passage in some chance hooker to the nearest point on the mainland. Then he walked for many miles along a desolate shore till he reached the [95] town. When his time had been put through he crawled back along the same route, feeble and emaciated, and had often to wait many weeks before he could regain the island. Such at least is the story. It seems absurd to apply the same laws to these people and to the criminal classes of a city. The most intelligent man on Inishmaan has often spoken to me of his contempt of the law, and of the increase of crime the police have brought to Aranmor. On this island, he says, if men have a little difference, or a little fight, their friends take care it does not go too far, and in a little time it is forgotten. In Kilronan there is a band of men paid to make out cases for themselves; the moment a blow is struck they come down and arrest the man who gave it. The other man he quarrelled with has to give evidence against him; whole families come down to the court and swear against each other till they become bitter enemies. If there is a conviction the man who is convicted never forgives. He waits his time, and before the year is out there is a cross summons, which the other man in turn never forgives. The feud continues to grow, till a dispute about the colour of a man’s hair may end in a murder, after a year’s forcing by the law. The mere fact that it is impossible to get reliable evidence in the island - not because the people are dishonest, but because they think the claim of kinship more sacred than the claims of abstract truth - turns the whole system of sworn evidence into a demoralising farce, and it is easy to believe that law dealings on this false basis must lead to every sort of injustice.’ (Collected Works, Prose, ed. Alan Price, 1966, pp.95-96.)

See J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands (1907) - more extracts [attached]

[Death by water:] ‘More recently a curagh from this island with three men, who were the worse for drink, was upset on its way home. The steamer was not far off, and saved two of the men, but could not reach the third. / Now a man has been washed ashore in Donegal with one pampooty on him, and a striped shirt with a purse in one of the pockets, and a box for tobacco. / For three days the people have been trying to fix his identity. Some think it is the man from this island, others think that the man from the south answers the description more exactly. To-night as we were returning from the slip we met the mother of the man who was drowned from this island, still weeping and looking out over the sea. She stopped the people who had come over from the south island to ask them with a terrified whisper what is thought over there. / Later in the evening, when I was sitting in one of the cottages, the sister of the dead man came in through the rain with her infant, and there was a long talk about the rumours that had come in. She pieced together all she could remember about his clothes, and what his purse was like, and where he had got it, and the same for his tobacco box, and his stockings. In the end there seemed little doubt that it was her brother. / “Ah!” she said, “It’s Mike sure enough, and please God they’ll give him a decent burial.” / Then she began to keen slowly to herself. She had loose yellow hair plastered round her head with the rain, and as she sat by the door sucking her infant, she seemed like a type of the women’s life upon the islands. / For a while the people sat silent, and one could hear nothing but the lips of the infant, the rain hissing in the yard, and the breathing of four pigs that lay sleeping in one corner. Then one of the men began to talk about the new boats that have been sent to the south island, and the conversation went back to its usual round of topics. / [136] The loss of one man seems a slight catastrophe to all except the immediate relatives. Often when an accident happens a father is lost with his two eldest sons, or in some other way all the active men of a household die together.[…]’ (Collected Works, Prose, ed. Alan Price, 1966, pp.136-37.)

See J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands (1907) - more extracts [attached]


The Aran Islands - Notebook (1907): ‘It is only in the intonation of a few sentences or some old fragments of melody that I catch the real spirit of the island, for in general the men sit together and talk with endless iteration of the tides and fish, and the price of kelp in Connemara.’ (Coll. Works, Vol. II, p.74; quoted in Nicholas Grene, 'Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, in Irish Studies in Brazil, ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, Univ. of Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005, p.75.)

Cf., Grene, Synge: A Critical Study of His Plays (Basinstoke: Macmillan 1975): ‘It was a slow business learning to see on Aran. There is a curious mistake of perspective in the view of Synge’s career which shows him transformed instantaneously into a writer of genius by his visit to Aran in 1898. It was not after all until 1902 that he wrote his first successful play, and throughout the period he continued to write and revise the lamentable “Etude Morbide”, “Vita Vecchia”, and When the Moon is Set. We can see comparing the first draft with the final draft how gradually Synge found his way towards creativity. In view of the long-standing controversy about the origins of his dramatic dialect, the development of the language of the islanders is particularly interesting.’ (A Critical Study of His Plays, Macmillan, pp.23-24.)

The Aran Islands - Notebook (1907): ‘I cannot say it too often, the supreme interest of the Island has in the strange concord that exists between the people and the impersonal limited but powerful impulses of the nature that is around them.’ (“Aran Islands Notebooks”; quoted in Weldon Thornton, Synge and the Western Mind, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1979, p.81).

The Aran Islands - Notebook (1907) - Notebook 19 [written at the end of the first visit]: ‘To write a real novel of the island life one would require to pass several years among the people, but Miss Lawless does not appear to have lived here. Indeed it would be hardly possible perhaps for a lady [to stay] longer than a few days. Compare the peasants of [102] Grania with those of Fiona MacLeod who I feel sure has a real deep knowledge. Take the passage in Grania where he heroine makes up the fire of kelp before she goes home to her rest as an example [of] how superficially travellers speak. The kelp-fire lasts at most twenty-four hours and is tended all the time by some half dozen who pile on the weeds continually. Such at least is now the custom, and I am told none other could exist. Miss Lawless if she has erred has not done so as deeply as Pierre Loti in his PÍcheur d’Islande [&c.; …] With this limestone Inishmaan however I am in love, and hear with galling jealousy of the various priests an scholars who have lived here before me. The thought that this island will gradually yield to the ruthlessness of “progress” is as the certainty that decaying age is moving always nearer the cheeks it is your ecstasy to kiss. How much of Ireland was formerly like this and how much of Ireland is today Anglicised and civilised and brutalised. Am I not leaving in Inishmaan spiritual treasures unexplored whose presence is a great magnet to my soul? In this ocean alone is [there] not every symbol of the cosmos?’ (Collected Works [Vol. II] , Prose, ed. Alan Price, 1966, pp.102-03.)

The Aran Islands [given in footnotes in OUP 1966 Edn.]: ‘I look on The Aran Islands as my first serious piece of work - it was written before any of my plays. In writing out the talk of the people and their stories in this book, and in a certain number of articles on the Wicklow peasantry which I have not yet collected, I learned to write the peasant dialect and dialogue which I use in my plays.’ (Letter Leon Brodzky [Dec. 1907]; Collected Works, II, p.47.)

See J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands (1907) - more extracts [attached]

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‘[I became] a worshipper of nature … probably the happiest [period] of my life. It was admirable in every way’(Collected Works, II, 5.) [in Rathfarnham days]

‘The man who feels most exquisitely the joy of contact with what is perfect in art and nature is the man who from the width and power of his thought hides the greatest number of Satanic or barbarous sympathies. His opposite is the narrow churchman or reformer who knows no ecstasy and is shocked chiefly by the material discomforts of earth or Hell.’ (Collected Works, II, pp.6.)

‘To wander as I did for years though the dawn of night with every nerve stiff and strained with expectation gives one a singular acquaintance with the essences of the world. The obscure noises of the owls and rabbits, the heavy scent of the hemlock and the flowers of the elder … gave me a passionate and receptive mood like that of early man … The forces that rid me of theological mysticism reinforced my innate feeling for the profound mysteries of life’ (Collected Works, II, pp.9-10.)

‘When I was about fourteen I obtained a book of Darwin’s. It opened in my hands at the passage where he asks how can we explain the similarity between a man’s hand and a bird’s or bat’s wings except by evolution. I flung the book aside and rushed out into the open air - it was summer and we were in the country - the sky seemed to have lost its blue and grass its green. I lay down and writhed in an agony of doubt. My studies showed me the force of what I read, [and] the more I put it from m the more it rushed back with new instances and power … In a few days I had regained my composure, but this was the beginning. Soon afterwards I turned by attention to works of Christian evidence, reading them at first with pleasure, soon with doubt, and at last with derision.’ (‘My Youth by Dora Comyn’ [pseud.], in Collected Works, II, pp.10-11.)

‘I worked myself into a sort of mystical ecstasy with music and the works of Carlyle and Wordsworth … I began to write verses and compose. I wished to be at once Shakespeare, Beethoven and Darwin; my ambition was boundless and amounted to a real torture in my life. I would go down on my knees at times with my music paper on a chair before me and cry to God for a melody.’ (Collected Works, II, pp.12.)

On deciding to abandon music studies in Germany in 1893: ‘I threw aside all reasonable counsel and declared myself a professional musician’ (Collected Works, II, p.15.)

‘I wished to be at once Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Darwin; my ambition was boundless and amounted to a real torture in my life … When I was fiddling I mourned over the books I wished to read; when I was reading. I yearned for all manner of adventures.’ (Q.p.; quoted in Ann Saddlemyer, ‘John Millington Synge’, in Dictionary of Irish Literature, ed. Robert Hogan, Greenwood Press; Gill & Macmillan 1979, p.654).

‘The Irish ballad poetry of The Spirit of the Nation school engrossed me for a while and made [me] commit my most serious literary error; I thought it excellent for a considerable time and then repented bitterly. / Soon after I had relinquished the Kingdom of God I began to take a real interest in the Kingdom of Ireland. My patriotism went round from a vigorous and unreasoning loyalty to a temperate nationalism, and everything Irish seemed sacred.’ (‘Autobiography’, Alan Price, ed. Collected Works, II, 1962 [quoted in various sources].)

Sundry: ‘Till I was 23 I never met or at least knew a man or woman who shared my opinions’ (q.p.).

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Poems and Translations, Preface (signed 1908; publ. 1909), asserting that ‘the poetry of exaltation’ must have ‘strong roots’: ‘[W]hen men lose their poetic feeling for ordinary life, and cannot write poetry of ordinary things, their exalted poetry is likely to lose its strength of exaltation, in the way men cease to build beautiful churches when they have lost happiness in building shops […] In these days poetry is usually a flower of evil or good; but it is the timber of poetry that wears most surely, and there is no timber that has not strong roots among the clay and worms. Even if we grant that exalted poetry can be kept successful by itself, the strong things of life are needed in poetry also, to show that what is exalted or tender is not made by feeble blood. It may also be said that before verse can be human again it must learn to be brutal.’ (Robin Skelton, ed., Collected Works [Vol. I], “Poems”, OUP 1962: Poems and Translations, ‘Preface to the First Edition’, p.xxxvi; quoted in Louis MacNeice, W. B. Yeats, 1941, p.98; also in Tuohy, W. B. Yeats, 1976, p.133; T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, London: Methuen 1965 [rev. edn.]), p.76 [‘In these days [… &c.]’, calling it as ‘the famous passage’], David Krause, ‘Remembering Liam: An Epiphany of Friendship’, in Irish Literary Supplement, Fall, 1992, pp.26-30, and in part in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.169.)

A Landlord’s Country Garden in Wicklow”, in Manchester Guardian (9 May & 1 July 1907): ‘Everyone is used in Ireland to the tragedy that is bound up with the lives of farmers and fishing people; but in this garden one seems to feel the tragedy of the landlord class also, and of the innumerable old families that are quickly dwindling away. These owners of the land are not much pitied at the present day, or much deserving of pity; yet one cannot quite forget that they are the descendants of what was at one time, in the eighteenth century, a high-spirited and highly-cultivated aristocracy. Still, this class, with its many genuine qualities, had little patriotism, in the right sense, few ideas, and no seed for future life, so it has gone to the wall. The broken greenhouses and mouse-eaten libraries, that were designed and collected by men who voted with Grattan, are perhaps as mournful in their end as the four mud walls that are so often left in Wicklow as the only remnants of a farmhouse. The desolation of this life is often of a peculiarly local kind, and if a playwright chose to go through the Irish country houses he would find material, it is likely, for many gloomy plays that would turn on the dying away of these old families, and on the lives of one or two delicate girls that are left so often to represent a dozen hearty men who were alive a generation or two ago. Many of the descendants of these people have, of course, drifted into professional life in Dublin, or have gone abroad; yet, wherever they are, they do not equal their forefathers, and where men used to collect fine editions of Don Quixote and Molière, in Spanish or French, and luxuriantly bound copies of Juvenal and Perseus or Cicero, nothing is read now but Longfellow and Hall Caine and Miss Corelli. Where good and roomy houses were built a hundred years ago, poor and tawdry houses are built now; and bad bookbinding, bad pictures and bad decorations are thought well of, where rich bindings, beautiful miniatures and finely-carved chimney pieces were once prized by the old Irish landlords.’ (Rep. in Wicklow and West Kerry [1910]; rep. in The Aran Islands and Other Writings, 1961, p.202; quoted in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal, Gill & Macmillan, 1977, pp.36-37; also [in part] in Mark Mortimer, ‘The World of Jennifer Johnston: A Look at Three Novels’, in The Crane Bag, 4, 1, 1980, p.91.)

The Old and New in Ireland”, in The Academy and Literature (6 September 1902); rep. Collected Works, Vol. II: Prose, ed. Alan Price, 1966, pp.383-86): ‘Ten years ago, in the summer of 1892, an article on Literary Dublin, by Miss Barlow, author of Bogland Studies and some other charming work, appeared in a leading English weekly. After dealing with Professor Mahaffy, some other Irish writers, and the periodicals of Dublin, she summed up in these words: ‘This bird’s eye view has revealed no brilliant prospect, and the causes of dimness considered, it is difficult to point out any quarter of the horizon as a probable source of rising light. / No one who knows Ireland and Irish life will be likely to charge Miss Barlow with lack of insight, although when she wrote the literary movement which is now so apparent was beginning everywhere through the country. [For further extracts, see Library, “Irish Classics”, infra.]

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Can We Go Back Into Our Mother’s Womb? - A Letter to the Gaelic League by A Hedge Schoolmaster
‘Much of the writing that has appeared recently in the papers takes it for granted that Irish is gaining the day in Ireland and that this country will soon speak Gaelic. No supposition is more false. The Gaelic League is founded on a doctrine that is made up of ignorance, fraud and hypocrisy. Irish as a living language is dying out year by year - the day the last old man or woman who can speak Irish only dies in Connacht or Munster - a day that is coming near - will mark a station in the Irish decline which will be final a few years later. As long as these old people who speak Irish only are in the cabins the children speak Irish to them - a child will learn as many languages as it has need of in its daily life - but when they die the supreme good sense of childhood will not cumber itself with two languages where one is enough. It will play, quarrel, say its prayers and make jokes of good and evil, make love when it’s old enough, write if it has wit enough, in this language which is its mother tongue. This result is what could be expected beforehand and it is what is taking place in Ireland in every Irish-speaking district. [...]
 I believe in Ireland. I believe the nation that has made a place in history by seventeen centuries of manhood, a nation that has begotten Grattan and Emmet and Parnell will not be brought to complete insanity in these last days by what is senile and slobbering in the doctrine of the Gaelic League. There was never till this time a movement in Ireland that was gushing, cowardly and maudlin, yet now we are passing England in the hysteria of old women’s talk. [See note.]
 A hundred years ago Irishmen could face a dark existence in Kilmainham Jail, or lurch on the halter before a grinning mob, but now they fear any gleam of truth. How are the mighty fallen! Was there ever a sight so piteous as an old and respectable people setting up the ideals of Fee-Gee because, with their eyes glued on John Bull’s navel, they dare not be Europeans for fear the huckster across the street might call them English.
 This delirium will not last always. It will not be long - we will make it our first hope - till some young man with blood in his veins, logic in his wits and courage in his heart, will sweep over the backside of the world to the uttermost limbo this credo of mouthing gibberish. (I speak here not of the old and magnificent language of our manuscripts, or of the two or three dialects still spoken, though with many barbarisms, in the west and south, but of the incoherent twaddle that is passed off as Irish by the Gaelic League.) This young man will teach Ireland again that she is part of Europe, and teach Irishmen that they have wits to think, imaginations to work miracles, and souls to possess with sanity. He will teach them that there is more in heaven and earth than the weekly bellow of the Brazen Bull-calf and all his sweaty gobs, or the snivelling booklets that are going through Ireland like the scab on sheep, and yet he’ll give the pity that is due to the poor stammerers who mean so well though they are stripping the nakedness of Ireland in the face of her own sons.’

Composed after the Playboy Riot in 1907; first published in abbreviated version in J. M. Synge 1871-1909, NY: Macmillan 1959, pp.262-63; see full version in Collected Works, II [Prose], ed. Alan Price, 1966, pp.399-400 [also quoted in part in Alan Titley, ‘The Irish Language and Synge’, in Nailing Theses: Selected Essays, Belfast: Lagan Press 2011, p.135]. Note Editor’s Ftn. ‘[…] The last three lines, from ‘and yet he’ll give the pity’ to ‘face of her own sons’ are lightly scored out in Item 52.’


Note: The above letter is quoted in Patrick Ward, Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing (Dublin IAP 2002), p.167, citing Synge, Prose, Works : II, pp.399-400.) Alan Titley quotes Declan Kiberd to the effect that ‘Synge believed that “an Irish-speaking Ireland [was] tantamount to a vow of silence for all its people”, and therefore, that the great silence that came about because of the retreat of the language would be repeated in the reverse fashion.’ (Titley, op. cit. 2011, p.134; citing Declan Kiberd, Synge and the Irish Language, London: Macmillan 1979, p.232.)


See also Stephen McKenna recalling Synge’s response to the cultural claims of the Irish revival movement: ‘[O]n the score of one pamphlet in which someone, speaking a half-truth, had urged the youth of Ireland to learn modern Irish because it would give them access to the grand old Saga literature; I have never forgotten the bale in the eyes when he read this and told me: “That’s a bloody lie, long after they know modern Irish, which they’ll never know, they’ll still be miles and miles from any power over the Saga.”’ (Quoted in Titley, op. cit. 2011, p.135; citing O’Leary, op. cit., p.123.)

A Good Picture for Dublin”, in Manchester Guardian ( 24 Jan. 1908): ‘[…] Until recently the political affairs of Ireland were directed, to a large extent, by leaders, like Parnell, form the Protestant and landlord classes, but now after the experience of a century the more native portion of the people have reached a stage in which they have little trouble in finding political leaders among themselves. In the arts, however, it is different. Although the Irish popular classes have sympathy with what is expressed in the arts they are necessarily unfamiliar with artistic maters, so that for many years to come artistic movements in Ireland will be the work of individuals whose enthusiasm or shill can be felt by the less-trained instincts of the people. These individuals, a few here and there like the political leaders of the nineteenth century, will be drawn form the classes that have still some trace or tradition of the older culture, and yet for various reasons have lost all hold on direct political life. The history of the founding of this new gallery and the word done for it by Mr. Hugh lane and a few others since 1902 is a good instance of these new courses in Irish affairs…. This gallery will impress everyone who visits it, but for those who live in Dublin it is peculiarly valuable. Perhaps no one but Dublin men who have lived abroad also can quite realise the strange thrill it gave me to turn in form Harcourt-street - where I passed by the school long ago - to find myself among Monets, and Manets and Renoirs, things I connect so directly with life in Paris … The Dublin gallery, one is tempted to hope, will have a living atmosphere [which might] become, like the Louvre and the Luxembourg, a sort of home for one’s mind. A new building has been promised by the Corporation of Dublin, but for the time being at least things are well as they are, and I have always felt that pictures are more easily enjoyed when hung in places built for the use of life, whether palaces or houses, than in formal picture galleries that are built for the purpose.’ (Collected. Works, II, Prose, ed. Alan Price, OUP 1966, pp.390-91.)

The Vagrants of Wicklow” (in Collected Works, II, Prose, OUP 1966): ‘In all the circumstances of this tramp life there is a certain wildness that gives it romance and a peculiar value for those who look at life in Ireland with an eye that is aware of the arts also. [I]n all the healthy movements of art, variations from the ordinary types of manhood are made interesting for the ordinary man, and in this way only the higher arts are universal.’ (p.208; quoted in Anne Gallagher, ‘Tramps, Tinkers and Beggars in the Plays of J. M. Synge’, UUC UG Diss., 2010.)

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