Morality & Sympathises of J. M. Synge

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Synge’s Consciousness of Mortality

      A single statement brings us close to the center of Synge’s dramatic, vision - ‘on the stage one must have reality, and one must have joy’. As always with Synge’s theorizing, he writes from the specific artistic position in which he finds himself, arguing hers against both the joylessness of Scandinavia and the unreal poetic country of Maeterlinck and the early Yeats. But he speaks also for his deepest intuitions as a dramatist, and right through his plays, the balance between reality and joy is essential. Reality began for him on Aran, and it began with the acute realization of death. According to Padraic Colum, Synge once said that Riders was inspired by the recognition of his own mortality which came to him at the age of thirty. It seems almost absurdly banal as a motive for writing that play, but this urgent sense of death stayed with him all through the rest of his career. It is one of the reasons why it is unnecessary to see in Deirdre a prefiguration of his own death. The tragic awareness which is there both in Deirdre and in Riders is not simply the feeling of a man who knew that his own life was to be short. It is the horrifying realization of loss which we find at its most naked in his poetry:

I read about the Blaskets and Dunquiri,
The Wicklow towns and fair days I’ve been in.
I read of Galway, Mayo, Aranmore,
And men with kelp along a wintry shore.
Then I remember that that T was I,
And I’d a filthy job-to watse and die.

      The life of the senses in its very intensity carries for Synge always the fear of its ending. Any quietist emotion, any desire for reconciliation in death must struggle with this protesting indignant revulsion.

Broadness of Sympathies

      There was not alone a narrow range of sympathies, there was Synge own constitutional delicacy which may well have bred in him swift admiration of the coarser virtues: daring, physical energy, high-heartedness, physical courage. Of spiritual sensitiveness he had little. In that-one regret it-he was at one with all the Ascendancy writers, from Swift onwards to George Bernard Shaw. We can easily conceive how instinctively the islanders would shrink from exposing to the gaze of such a one the dearest thoughts of their souls. He almost quite succeeded in sounding the depths of their spirit in his Riders to the Sea: and the wonder of that achievement is to us a far greater surprise than his rather reckless and wild-eyed view of the people in his other plays.

      His view of imagination and the drama, then, may be understood if we recollect, first, his constitutional ill-health inclining him towards the grosser virtues and the physical strength, agility, and energy necessary to them; secondly, his absorption in the folk mind with its bent towards the imaginative; and thirdly, his own brooding and non-intellectual nature, with its necessarily limited range of sympathies.

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