John Millington Synge: Playboy of the Western World

John Millington Synge was one of the leading playwrights of the Irish Literary Renaissance in the late 1890s and the early 20th century. He was born on 16 April, 1871 and died on 24 March 1909.

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Synge was fascinated by language and the speech of ordinary people. He believed that much of the great writing of Shakespeare was in fact inspired by the everyday sayings of people in Elizabethan times. Synge believed he could find similar inspiration in the everyday language of the Irish peasantry.
John Millington Synge
Encouraged by W B Yeats, he visited the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and absorbed himself in the lives, language and stories of the people he met.

The result was some of Ireland’s finest plays that are still being performed today. In the Shadow of the Glen, Riders to the Sea and The Well of the Saints were based on stories from the islands and drew heavily on the language and speech patterns of the islanders.

The Aran Islands also provided the inspiration for Synge’s most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World, a dark comedy about a man who gains fame and popularity after claiming to have killed his father.

The play caused riots when it was first produced at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. People were outraged at the way it presented Irish people as boastful and as too quick to glamorise bad behaviour.

The play survived, however, and is now regarded as a classic of Irish literature. Here are a selection of some of the best John Millington Synge quotes.

Cartoon illustration of shamrocks. Image copyright Ireland Calling
John Millington Synge quote. I'm a good scholar when it comes to reading but a blotting kind of writer when you give me a pen. Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *
Lord, confound this surly sister
Blight her brow with blotch and blister
Cramp her larynx, lung, and liver
In her guts a galling give her.
Let her live to earn her dinners
In Mountjoy with seedy sinners
Lord, this judgment quickly bring
And I’m your servant, J. M. Synge.
* * *

A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned. For he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drowned now and again.

* * *

John Millington Synge quote. There is no language. Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *
I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds
The grey and wintry sides of many glens
And did but half remember human words
In converse with the mountains, moors, and fens.

* * *

As a man has no right to kill one of his children if it is diseased or insane. So a man who has made the gradual and conscious expression of his personality in literature the aim of his life, has no right to suppress himself any carefully considered work which seemed good enough when it was written. Suppression, if it is deserved, will come rapidly enough from the same causes that suppress the unworthy members of a man’s family.

* * *

I asked if I got sick and died, would you
With my black funeral go walking too
If you’d stand close to hear them talk or pray
While I’m let down in that steep bank of clay.
* * *

John Millington Synge quote.  Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *

May I meet him with one tooth and it aching
And one eye to be seeing seven and seventy divils in the twists of the road
And one old timber leg on him to limp into the scalding grave.
There he is now crossing the strands,
And that the Lord God would send a high wave to wash him from the world.
Playboy of the Western World.

* * *

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.

* * *

Every article on these islands has an almost personal character, which gives this simple life, where all art is unknown, something of the artistic beauty of medieval life. John Millington Synge quote. Image Copyright Ireland Calling.

* * *

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.

* * *

The absence of the heavy boot of Europe has preserved to these people the agile walk of the wild animal, while the general simplicity of their lives has given them many other points of physical perfection.

* * *

Sykes Irish cottages

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The general knowledge of time on the island depends, curiously enough, on the direction of the wind.

-John Millington Synge quote. Foreign languages are another favourite topic. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Quotes Cartoon illustration of shamrocks. Image copyright Ireland Calling

All images copyright Ireland Calling

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