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Tag: John Millington Synge

Synge Prelude

Saturday, 24 March, 2018 0 Comments

On this day in 1909, the playwright, poet and collector of folklore John Millington Synge died. He was just 37 years old. Synge was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, and it was in thanks to the Abbey Theatre that he entered history. The occasion was the 1907 Abbey premiere of his wonderful play, The Playboy of the Western World, and the surrounding events exposed the sordid absurdity that has powered so much of Irish nationalism.

One source of audience hostility to the play was that the plot combined an idealization of parricide with an unhappy ending, but what triggered the violence was Christy Mahon’s comment about “a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself.” The very mention of an undergarment led The Freeman’s Journal of Monday, 28 January 1907 to condemn the play as an “unmitigated, protracted libel upon Irish peasant men and worse still upon peasant girlhood.” Rioting ensued and the police had to enforce security during each performance, making nightly arrests of outraged nationalists filled with hatred of an artistic expression that did not reflect their chosen insanity.

The Playboy of the Western World has survived time and terror and Synge’s poetry remains true to the landscape that gave him so much happiness during his short life.

Prelude

Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon’s delight.

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.

John Millington Synge (1871 – 1909)

Wicklow


On The Birthday Of Synge

Saturday, 16 April, 2016 0 Comments

The playwright and poet John Millington Synge was born on this day in 1871. A key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, he is best known for his play The Playboy of the Western World, which caused riots in Dublin during its opening run at the Abbey. Although he came from a privileged Anglo-Irish background, Synge’s writings are mainly concerned with the Catholic culture of rural Ireland and with the earthy spiritualism of its world view. Synge developed Hodgkin’s disease, which was then untreatable, and he died shortly before his 38th birthday.

On A Birthday

Friend of Ronsard, Nashe, and Beaumont,
Lark of Ulster, Meath, and Thomond,
Heard from Smyrna and Sahara
To the surf of Connemara,
Lark of April, June, and May,
Sing loudly this my Lady-day.

John Millington Synge (16 April 1871 — 24 March 1909)

The Playboy of the Western World


Puck

Friday, 7 June, 2013 3 Comments

Travelling through West Kerry in August 1906, John Millington Synge wrote: “On the main roads, for many days past, I have been falling in with tramps and trick characters of all kinds, sometimes single and sometimes in parties of four or five… A crowd is as exciting as champagne to these lonely people, who live in long glens among the mountains… At the foot of the platform, where the crowd was thickest, a young ballad-singer was howling in honour of Puck, making one think of the early Greek festivals, since the time of which, it is possible, the goat has been exalted yearly in Killorglin.”

Synge was describing Puck Fair, an event that stretches back to pagan times and which revolves around the crowning of a wild goat that reigns as King Puck from atop a three-story high platform in the middle of Killorglin town. In her wonderful 1965 travelogue, The Orgy, American poet Muriel Rukeyser offers a Synge-similar description of her pilgrimage to Puck Fair, which she declared to be a carnival of debauchery:

“Killorglin looks like a drab little Victorian town. And is, except for three days of the year, in August… All this time people from all over are converging on the town — all over Kerry, of course, all over the country, and from Persia, they say, and Spain, and Europe, and cops in New York save up all year to go to Puck. The night before the Fair, all the little shops around the square, that sell all the things little shops sell — they close, and in the morning when they open, each one is a pub. The goat is crowned king — they say the tinkers choose their king there, too, but that of course is done in secret. The town is wide open, they say. It’s the last of the goat festivals: Greece, Spain, Scotland, England — the last.”

Last night, Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, a thriller set in a futuristic west of Ireland, won the Impac literary award and €100,000. The final chapter is titled “On the Night of the August Fair”, an event that resembles Puck Fair.

Puck Fair