As someone who has suffered the fevered sickness of literary aspiration for more years than I care to count, I was firmly put in my place this week during a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum. When held up against even my best attempts at writing, confronting the record of what pen and paper have accomplished in the life of this ancient city, and in the struggles that so recently gave birth to Ireland, is a genuinely humbling experience.
It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the works of writers like Synge, Shaw, Wilde, and Beckett. They wrote well and prolifically to be sure. But their work flourished at a time when life was not easy. For writers life has never been easy. But Shaw didn’t blog. The simplicity of online publishing means that anyone can publish his or her own work. The problem with this is, of course, that anyone can publish his or her own work. When Joyce, and Shaw, and others cut their teeth, models of publishing, distribution, and representation were also in their formative years. For artists on their way up, there were no chain shops with displays of their favorite writers to act as inspiration.
Success was not the grail of inspiration. Writers wrote because it’s what a writer does. They took their inspiration from the lives lived around them. The tale of a single day was grist enough for Joyce. A stroll through the Dublin Writers Museum reminds us that the best writers took part in, and both captured and inspired, the political movements (the successes and the failures) of their day. The wit of Wilde and Swift cut to the core of social structures they found wanting.
The Abbey Theatre was a remarkable pulpit for Synge’s impressions of Irish life. From his travels in the west of Ireland, to his time in Dublin, Synge’s work captured “ordinary” lives lived in County Wicklow and incited riots in Dublin. For these great men, the pen was not mightier than the sword. The pen was their sword. They used their gifts to capture the anger, happiness, struggles, and gentle grace they found around them.
Not to belabor the point, but suffice it to say that I was moved to my core by the exhibits in this often-overlooked museum. The story of Dublin, and the stories of the writers who have called Dublin home, are inextricably wed. To truly know one you must know the other(s).
I stand humbled and inspired.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Out in the Country