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John Millington Synge

The Aran Islands

John Millington Synge, 1871 -1909
The Aran Islands
Drawings by Jack B. Yeats
Dublin: Maunsel, 1907
(SPL) PR 5532 .A7

Best known for his dramatic works, John Synge epitomizes for many the Irish literary renaissance because of his great success as a dramatist. His work as a poet remains in the shadow of his plays.

Synge began his literary career writing verse, but he turned to writing plays after he went to the Aran Islands at Yeats’s suggestion in the late 1890s and came into the orbit of Lady Gregory. As a relatively young man, he was stricken with Hodgkin’s disease. In The Aran Islands, Synge described his visits to those islands during which he came to know the speech patterns and the stories of their inhabitants who came to accept him as one of their own. In a passage removed from the final draft, Synge wrote:

If a man grew up knowing suddenly a grey corpse in his path what would [he] suffer? Some such emotion was in me the day I looked first on these rising magnificent waves towering in dazzling white and green before the cliff; if I had not seen waves before I would have likely lost my sense.

W. B. Yeats wrote that Synge “found a mirror for his own bitterness” on the Aran Islands; the connection between the writer and subject grew so strong. Jack Yeats illustrated the first edition of Synge’s The Aran Islands.

The Well of the Saints: A Play

John Millington Synge, 1871-1909
A Well of the Saints. A Play
Dublin: Maunsel, 1905.
(SPL) PR 5532 .W4 1911a

Following the publication of The Aran Islands, Synge focused almost entirely on plays during the remaining years of his short life. One of Synge’s earlier dramatic works was The Well of the Saints.