Other Literary Forms
John Millington Synge’s nondramatic works—autobiographical sketches, essays, reviews, and diaries—document the proposition that his dramatic career began with his response to William Butler Yeats’s advice to abandon Paris for Ireland’s remote regions. Synge’s observations of the lives of the country people of Aran, Connemara, Kerry, and Wicklow indicate that until he lived in these repositories of folk tradition, he had not found either theme or style. The diaries and essays from these visits report Synge’s compilation of dramatic incidents, details of local color, images, and turns of speech, and show an understanding of that way of life that encompassed its dialect, character, and fatalism. Although these accounts show an acute eye for the dramatic, they have less-than-scientific reliability, permeated as they are with Synge’s nature mysticism, his brooding remove from social engagement, and his lack of sympathy with the religious traditions of the people. Synge’s direct, precise prose is chiefly valuable as a record of the sources for his plays and of his developing creative consciousness.
With a few exceptions—“In Kerry,” “Queens,” and “Danny”—Synge’s poetry merits the same judgment. Ironic, romantic, and morbid, it is rich with Celtic and folk reference. It also shows, however, the influence of various European poets— François Villon, Giacomo Leopardi, Petrarch—whose works Synge translated. There is some evidence that Synge’s direct idiom contributed to Yeats’s abandonment of romantic idealism after 1902.
Synge’s photographs (My Wallet of Photographs, 1971) are valuable documents of turn-of-the-century life on the Irish seaboard. His Letters to Molly (1971) and Some Letters of John M. Synge to Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats (1971) are equally valuable in coming to an appreciation of Synge’s personal and business struggles in his final and more creative years.