Consider Synge’s Riders to the Sea as a Poetic Drama

The early years of the 20th century saw the revival of the poetic drama at the hands of W.B. Yeats. J. M. Synge and T. S. Eliot and others. The poetic drama gives an imaginative interpretation of life. Its characters appear to be a creature of the world different from our own. They have an idealism that strikes us admirably.

Synge’s ”Riders to the Sea” is a perfect specimen of modern poetic drama though it was written in prose. In theme, it appears to be a real tragedy, but Synge has achieved a miracle of tragic art within the limits of a realistic one-act play. His view of life is essentially tragic. He saw and felt deeply the tragedy of the life of the peasants among whom she lived sometime for his materials. These primitive people lived in hard life in complete isolation from the rest of the world. Civilization has not dawned upon them. There is nothing grand or about the lives of these simple peasants. Yet the dramatist has imparted to their simple lives a tinge of imagination or high poetry. With his imagination, he has given to the picture the glow and grandeur
of a Shakespearian tragedy.

The lives of the simple peasants folk are always in a clash with fate represented by the sea. The sea is here conceived as a superhuman protagonist that takes pleasure in killing the small creatures i.e. the male members of the peasants’ families. Man is a puppet in the hands of the sea that stands for Fate. Maurya is looked in a bitter struggle with the sea. Bartley is a human force fighting against the sea. He would go out to sea whatever might happened. This theme is fit for a poetic tragedy.

As in poetry ‘Riders to the Sea‘ makes abundant use of symbols to indicate man’s helplessness in fate to hostile nature and death. The conflict between man and the woman out a pattern which is absolutely poetic. Synge picks out his images that fit in well with this pattern. The sea itself is a symbol for the death of all the male members of the Maurya’s household. The islanders are however sustained joy the sea as it ensures their living. But then it is relentless and ruthless as a Killer. Everything in the life of the Islanders depends on how the sea treats them. Maurya, Like here’s of the Greek tragedies is chosen to suffer the tyranny caused by the sea. She sees the red mare that represents vitality and grey pony that represents death. The spring well is also symbols of life, while nails symbolize pain. In fact, the use of symbols in ‘Riders to the Sea’ renders it highly poetical.

Moreover, the ending of the drama is similar to that of a poetical tragedy. Maurya attains heroic fortitude at the end of her battle against the sea. She says in a heroic tone of calm and fortitude.-“No man at all can be living forever and we must be satisfied.” It is the same – “Calm and quiet all passions spent,” which is the final impression of Shakespearian tragedies.

Riders to the Sea‘ is written in prose, but the prose has a poetry about it. It has the rhythm and cadence of poetry born of the natural idiom of the humble and rustic language. Maurya’s speech is charged with poetic simplicity and rhythm.

From the discussion above we can conclude that “Riders to the Sea” is a poetic drama representing a poetic conception of the life of the primitive Aran Islanders. Their common life is invested with glory and grandeur. The dramatist makes all effort to impart to the play poetic qualities and ideas of universal significance.

Also read: Short Questions and Answers from “Riders to the Sea”