Yeats tended to turn his friends into Olympians, in the memor-ializing rhetoric of his verse or in the gnomic pronouncements of his prose. His enemies got similar but opposite treatment. J.M. Synge was a close friend, as well as someone deeply admired. Yeats described him variously, but the phrase he used in ‘Coole Park, 1929’, though simple and unaffected, sums up much about the man and the artist: ‘That meditative man’.2 It registers Synge’s scholarship, concentration, attentiveness and collectedness. These meditative qualities derive from a very strong interplay, in Synge’s temperament, between a powerful subjectivity, an ability to absorb and concentrate variousness; and objectivity, a readiness in the spirit to encounter things other than itself. This interaction, between self and that which is different from it, is one of the dynamics that gives Synge’s work its energy and vitality, and its composure. In a notebook of 1908 he wrote:

The artistic value of any work of art is measured by its uniqueness. Its human value is given largely by its intensity and its richness, for if it is rich it is many-sided or universal, and, for this reason, sane-another word for wholesome-since all insanities are due to a one-sided excitement.3