The passages that the characters speak or sing in these two Irish plays have some similarities. In Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge, Maurya is a woman who has lost several sons to the sea. Her final words are spoken as she prepares to bury her son Bartley. At the end of At the Hawk's Well by W. B. Yeats, the musicians are singing about a person's goals while alive.
A strong similarity, therefore, is that both plays end with words that pertain to an overall philosophy of life. There are significant differences in the characters’ perspectives. Maurya is primarily concerned with the inevitability of death and how the living must accept it. The singers refer to the approach that human should toward living their lives.
Maurya sounds fatalistic in accepting her sons’ deaths. She also expresses hope about the afterlife: “They're all together this time.” Her religious inclination is expressed as she asks for Almighty God to have mercy on the souls of numerous deceased people and “everyone...left living in the world.” Her resignation about the inevitibilty of death is also shown, as she observes that no one can live forever “and we must be satisfied.”
The musicians sing from the perspective of non-human things: a cloth, an empty well, and a leafless tree. After the young man and the old man both exit, the musicians fold and unfold the cloth as they sing about life’s bitterness. The song’s words convey acceptance of the good qualities of a familiar life, contrasted to the “hateful eyes” that might look upon a person in a strange, “desolate” place. According to the empty well, a praiseworthy life is lived amongst cows. The leafless tree praises the married man who “stays by the hearth” surrounded by children and dogs. The final words, combined with the young man’s leaving to join Cuchulain, suggest that the singers’ last words are ironic: “Who but an idiot would praise a withered tree?”