J. M. Synge pp 62-69 | Cite as

My Memories of John Synge

  • Padraic Colum


At twenty-six John Synge, according to ‘C. H. H.,’1 ‘was a strongly-built man with a rather thick neck and large head, a wonderful face with great luminous sad eyes, and though he was tanned from being constantly out of doors, there was a sort of pallor on his face that gave it a look of delicacy belying his figure, which was that of a hardy mountaineer.’ I first met him when he was seven years older. His face was grey; he had kindly hazel eyes, and he wore with his moustache a little chin-tuft; his brow went up steeply, and he had strong hair that was neither black nor brown. In a way he was like Fritz Kreisler2—less couth, less vivacious, wearing rougher clothes, but still as like as a brother might be who had gone, not on to the platform, but into the study. He was a walker, a man with a deliberate pace, who, out of doors, invariably carried a stick in his hand. In a room he was a listener; he kept neither aloof nor apart, but in a city of people who talked eagerly, he, with that strongly modelled head of his held so well up and with his air as of a foreign student, was noticeably quiet and unassuming. He was not like any poet I have known, and I think he must have been like some of the European musicians; when ‘C. H. H.’ visited his people in Wicklow he had just come back from Germany where he had been studying music; with the fiddle that he carried about with him he was able to make himself companionable by many a hearth-fire in peasant Ireland.—

Four strings I’ve brought from Spain and France

To make your long men skip and prance,

Till stars come out to watch the dance,

Where nets are laid to dry.


Foreign Student Irish Theatre Thick Neck Unfamiliar Experience Popular Play 
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  1. 7.
    Pierre Loti (1850–1923), French novelist whose exoticism made him popular in his time and whose themes anticipated some of the central preoccupations of French literature between the world wars. Synge thought Loti the greatest living writer of prose, and he used to say that he wished to do for the peasantry of Western Ireland what Loti had done for the Breton fisherfolk. One of the sources of Riders to the Sea is Loti’s Pêcheur d’Islande which Synge read for the first time in 1898 just before he went to the Aran Islands. See Maurice Bourgeois, ‘Synge and Loti’, Westminster Review (London) clxxlx (May 1913) 532–6Google Scholar
  2. and E. H. Mikhail, ‘French Influences on Synge’, Revue de littérature comparée (Paris) xlii (July–Sep 1968) 429– 31.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    In the spring of 1895 and the winter of 1896–7 Synge attended courses given at the Sorbonne by Professor Petit de Julleville, the author of Histoire du Théâtre en France au Moyen-âge. On 3 October 1903 he made notes of portions of chapters II and III of the volume La Comédie et les Ma urs au Moyen-âge (1886). These chapters include a description of Andrieu de la Vigne’s Moralité de l’Aveugle et du Boiteux (1456). It is clear that this is the ‘early French farce’ which Synge told Colum that The Well of the Saints had been inspired by.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1977

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  • Padraic Colum

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