Riders to the Sea main character Maurya, an old peasant woman, standing on the coast

Riders to the Sea

by J. M. Synge

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

Why is Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge considered a poetic drama?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

J.M. Synge is famous among Irish authors for attempting to capture the unique sound and rhythm of the native Irish accent. To do so, he travelled on several occasions to the Aran Islands, a remote region celebrated for its traditional culture and customs. Synge supposedly based the dialogue in his plays on the Irish dialect he heard during his travels, and his efforts have drawn both praise and criticism. However, whether or not you believe Synge's writing to be an accurate representation of English spoken with an Irish accent, the language in his plays is undeniably poetic and lyrical, and so it would be accurate to call Riders to the Sea a poetic drama.

Take, for instance, this quote: "I'll have no call now to be up and crying and praying when the wind breaks from the south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, and the surf is in the west, making a great stir with the two noises, and they hitting one on the other" (42). This lyrical description, which takes place late in the play, is a small example of Synge's prodigious literary powers, and it describes the violence and ferocity of the sea in truly majestic terms. Additionally, the speech has a pronounced rhythmic quality that quickly reminds one of poetic verse. Synge's plays, including Riders, are filled with examples of such finely-crafted writing, and for that reason you would be justified in calling Riders a poetic drama. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Riders to the Sea" should be classified as a poetic drama because of the play's dialogue, some of the specific words used, and the overall symbolism. By the dialogue I mean Synge works hard to capture the poetry of Irish speech. The rhythms, the word choices, the syntax: all capture that lyricism. Look, for example, at this line: " Middling bad, God help us. There's a great roaring in the west, and it's worse it'll be getting when the tide's turned to the wind." That's a description of the weather!

The specific word choices are closely linked; the strong religious sentiment of the people mean that they often use names with Biblical or mythic resonance, such as Michael.

Finally, the overall situation is poetic, especially in the imagery. Look at how the body is kicked into the sea at the end.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial