Language & Style Used in Riders To The Sea

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      The great achievement of Synge in respect of style and language, has attracted T.S. Eliot’s reasonable view. Eliot observes, “The plays of John Millington Synge form father a special case, because they are based upon the idiom of a rural people whose - speech is naturally poetic, both in imagery and in rhythm. I believe that he even incorporated phrases which he had heard from these country people of Ireland. The language of Synge is not available except for the plays set among that some people....But in order to be? poetic in prose; a dramatist has to be so’ consistently poetic that his scope is very limited. Synge wrote plays about characters whose originals in life talked poetically, so that he could make them talk poetry and remain real people.”

Language of the Bilingual Man of Aran

      Synge made first visit to the Aran Islands, on the kind advice of W.B. Yeats, in Paris. Later he visited the Islands five times and came in contact with the natives. He was interested in flesh and blood Irishmen, who not only give him the subject mater, but also, the language he used in most of his plays. He stated in the introduction to the Aran Islands, “I have given a direct account of my life on the islands and of what I met with among them, inventing nothing, and changing nothing that is essential.” Synge himself tells us that he had shared - the life of country and listened the language of the people carefully, which rendered a deep insight to his works. Ronald Peacock praises Synge thus “Synge’s greatest distinction, the thing that gives our acquaintance with him. Its particular flavor, has wonderful language, which pleases us not as a heightened form of the language we ourselves use, but as a picturesque deviation from it. Two things support each other; the setting of Irish character, atmosphere and speech is itself exotically attractive, and it is made more so, pointedly so, by Synge's exquisite and subtle handling of the imaginative peasant language he discovered in the West.”

Mysterious Beauty and Natural Music

      As Synge got his stuff from the Aran Islands, so the adoption of ‘their native tongue was his right choice, with rhythm, cadence and melody. Take the following example: It’s little the like of him knows the sea ....Bartley will be lost now, and let you call in Eamon and make me a good coffin out of the white boards, for I wont’s live after them. I’ve had a husband, and a husband’s father, and six sons in this house-six fine men though it was a hard birth I had with every one of them and they coming into the world and some of them were found and some of them were not found, but they’re gone now the lot of them. There were Stephen, and Shawn was lost in the great wind, and found after the Bay of Gregory of the Golden Mouth, and carried up the two of them on one plank, and in by that door.”

      Professor Nicoll has observed, “There is exquisite music here, a music that works upon our senses and charms us into viewing the dark disaster that has fallen on Maurya’s little house hold not with the dark despair but with deeper vision.”

Gaelic Syntax

      Synge spent some of his time in the Aran Islands and mixed with the people who used Gaelic syntax, so, gradually the playwright accustomed to spell the native tongue, which is even used in his literary works, as in Riders to the Sea, use of ‘and’.

      There was Sheamus and his father, and his own father again, were lost in a dark night, and not a stick or sign was seen of them when the sun went up.

I’ve had a husband, and a husband’s father, and six sons in this house—six fine men, though it was a hard birth I had with every one of them and they coming to the world.

      Even the excessive use of present participle gives the speech a Gaelic touch, in Riders to the Sea:

I’m after seeing him this day, and he riding and galloping.
The son of God forgives us, Nora, we’re after forgetting his bit of bread.

      The verb comes first in Gaelic Style:

And it’s destroyed he’ll be going till dark night.
It’s getting old she is, and broken.

      These extracts are clear evidence of Synge’s use of Gaelic dialect with much deeper and comprehensive study.

Vast Range of Approach

      In spite of all his limitations, Synge’s range of approaches is vast and deep. In Riders to the Sea, Synge has beautifully intermixed the ordinary with the extraordinary. An ordinary woman Maurya achieves the state of deity, due to her stoical acceptance of her fate. What she endures with calm and peace, can not be expected by an average human being. Synge could achieve the highest state amongst the Irish writers, because of his application of native tongue modified where it is required. The ‘conversation of the people’ was in Yeats's words “a language which is so full of riches because it is so full of leisure, or ...Those old stories of the folk which were made by men who believed so much in the soul and so little in anything else that they were never entirely certain that the earth was solid under the foot-sole.”

Farsightedness in Expression

      The spectacle value of Synge’s language, not only provides the audience with profound imagination but it also co-operates with the stage limitations. Maurya’s vision at the spring well, gives us a pictorial appeal, when she narrates thus the situation:

      “I’m after seeing him this day, and he riding. and galloping. Bartley came first on the red mare, and I tried to say “God speed you,” but something choked the words in my throat. He went by I quickly; and “the blessing of God on you,” says he, and I could say nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the grey pony, and there was Michael upon it—with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet.” Synge, in the following statement assets, that the pictorial quality of language is applauded by the audience.

      On the stage one must have reality, and one must have joy, and that is why the intellectual modern drama has failed and people have grown sick of the false joy of the musical comedy, that has been given them in place of the rich joy found only in what is superb and wild in reality. In a good play, every speech should be as fully flavored as a nut or apple and such speeches cannot be written by anyone who works among people who have shut their lips, on poetry.

Ronald Peacock on Synge’s Style and Language

      Synge’s greatest distinction, the thing that, gives our acquaintance with him its particular flavor, is his wonderful language, which pleases us not as a heightened form of the language we ourselves use, but as a picturesque deviation from it. Two things support each other; the setting of Irish character, atmosphere and speech is itself exotically attractive and it is made more so, pointedly so, by Synge’s exquisite and subtle handling of the imaginative peasant language he discovered in the West.

      This view, with its emphasis on the pleasure we get from unfamiliar forms of life and language, runs counter to a simple appraisal of Synge’s style as a great creation. It is “poetic” only within certain well-defined limits. It is very closely related to folk art and suffers from the same disadvantages. The “folk” imagination is spontaneous and beautiful as far as it goes; it does not always go very far. The simplicity and freshness and immediacy, the innocent and natural tones of folk art are not enough for mature phases of art....Synge’s language, for all its delicate modeling, loses in the long run by its limitation as folk speech. In his slender production, it suffers to express a rather narrow range of peasant characters and simple feelings. Its style is all on the surface. It has not that expressiveness of great dramatic poetry that lies in its profound relevance to the underlying pattern of our own lives. Such language might be gorgeously metaphorical, as in Shakespeare, it might be eloquent, precise, intense, as in Racine, but it is anything but unfamiliar. Using the elements of our own language, it completes and illuminates what we experience in an obtuse way. Judged by this proper standard, Synge’s style is severely, restricted.

Theatrical Value of Synge’s Diction

      Synge’s dialect is not applied in context with the purpose of ornamentation, rather, it is harmonized with the theme and is enriched with the dramatic quality for example, look at the following lines, when Cathleen asks the mothers from Maury a, which disturbs her:

      Maurya (Starts so that her shawl falls back from her head and shows her white tossed hair. With a frightened voice). The grey pony behind him...

      It is the peculiarity of the stage direction when the reveries were coming to Maurya she is telling about her sons, who had drowned much earlier, but side by side, the dead body of Bartley is arrived. Synge’s style and language is appreciated by Yeats. He observes: He made his own selection of words and phrases, choosing what would express his own personality.

      Above all, he made word and phrases dance to a very strong rhythm, which will always, till his plays have created their own tradition, be difficult to actors who have not learned it from his lips. It is essential, for it perfectly fits the drifting emotion, the dreaminess, the vague yet measureless desire, for which he would create a dramatic form. It blurs definition, clear edges, everything that comes from the will...and it strengthens in every emotion whatever comes to it from far off, from brooding memory and dangerous hope.

University Questions

Synge’s greatness in Riders to the Sea, lies in his treatment of language. Elaborate it.
"....Riders to the Sea, is a remarkable dramatic presentation of an elegiac situation redeemed from false pathos by the elemental dignity achieved by the language." (David Daiches). Discuss the language and style of Synge in the light of this statement.
Write an assessment on the language and style of Riders to the Sea.
Comment on the view that the language Synge uses in, Riders to the Sea, is suited to represent the expression of the peasant ethos of Ireland.

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