J. M. Synge and The Aran Islands: The Making of a Creative Writer

"As he headed home, I asked about his uncanny talent to predict rain—a skill I had witnessed several times. “We've lived on the sky all our lives,” he says, “listening to the wind and rain.”"

The Aran Islands; ANCIENT HEARTS
Modern Minds; By Lisa Moore Laroe
J. M. Synge was aware that he had in him the makings of a creative writer. With this awareness he came to settle in Paris where he earned money by teaching English and writing on French life and literature for English readers. Then came his fateful meeting with W. B. Yeats that changed the course of his life. He was persuaded to go back to Ireland and look for his themes in the life and experiences of the People in the Aran Islands. 

Yeats saw the possibilities in Synge and he was anxious to see Synge Join the Irish literary movement and thenational mainstream. Synge visited the Aran Islands in 1898. The Islands opened up new vistas before him and he was fascinated by the simple and primitive life of the Irish people there. The nature and the sea had a distinct  role in shaping this life, while the nebulous Lories wove the web in which it was inextricably mingled. Synge watched this life as it was lived in  isolated pagan world and heard many stories like Riders to the Sea told by the Islanders, including the ones about an unfaithful wife and a drowned man washed ashore. All this and his experiences and observations were written down and published in the form of journal. 

As we read his journal, The Aran Islands, we find ourselves in a world as fantastic as the Spain of Cervantes and it is in this world that Synge found his themes for Riders to the Sea. The Playboy of the Western World, The Shadow of the Glen, and The Well of Saints. The farmers and the fishermen of the Islands lived a life that was constantly harassed and haunted, and the rough sea, ruthless in its hostility to man, made the islanders cynical in their attitude to life. Christians though they were, Pagan fatalism had the pervasive influence in making their Christian faith fit in well with their superstitions and belief in ghosts and magic. 

The islanders were quite congenial and kindly in their relation with one another, but they were too stoical in their attitude to suffering to have any sympathy for the afflicted, though they were generally implied to share the suffering of their fellow beings. While dramatizing their life Synge appeared to have been re-creating the folk- tales and the heroic myth with which the life in the islands was interspersed. And to do this he used a language which was unpretentious and picturesque that fitted in well with the setting and atmosphere in the plays. His handling of the exquisite language spoken by the islanders in the West was very subtle. In simplicity and freshness the language was exotic. For example, Riders to the Sea has an appeal and poetic within certain well-defined limits of folk imagination which is spontaneous and beautiful. But the folk-speech had its limitations, ror its range is rather narrow as it expresses the peasant character and simple feelings of people in their cramped existence. Hence in Synge’s plays we do not find the expressiveness of great dramatic poetry. And it is in this that we find Synge’s appeal rather cramped.
Coming to the root the greatest achievement of Irish Literary Revival, that aimed at reviving the ancient folklore, legends and traditions of Ireland with a nationalistic impulse and patriotic zeal, was the establishment of Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and Abbey Theatre in 1910. W. B. Yeats, one of the great leaders of this movement, made this achievement even greater when he discovered Synge in Paris and persuaded him to return to Ireland. Synge was both a poet and a dramatist, though his talent remained dormant for a long time, until Yeats discovered him and brought him back to Ireland. While frequenting Aran islands, Synge lived with simple peasants and fishermen and experienced realities that remained hidden for him so long, The simple Irish characters, constantly harnessed by the hostile forces of nature and stoically engaged in eternal conflict, appeared to have enthralled him. He perfected a medium to give expression to his experiences and emotional involvement and his plays gave him that medium.