The symbol of Bartley’s Horses in Riders to the Sea from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Riders to the Sea

Bartley’s Horses Symbol Analysis

Bartley’s Horses Symbol Icon

Bartley’s horses are a complex symbol of death and fate, as Bartley dies by being thrown into the sea by the gray pony. The Christian overtones of the horses are important to understand, since Bartley’s accident is a direct reference to a passage from The Book of Exodus: “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” In the Biblical context, these lines are a celebration of God’s defeat of the Pharaoh, which allowed the Israelites to escape Egypt. However, the parallel between Bartley’s horses and the Bible does not cast Bartley’s accident as God’s will—instead, Synge presents the sea as eclipsing God’s power and inevitably taking the lives of young men, despite fervent prayers and the Priest’s promises. In other words, Bartley’s accident is not the will of God, but the will of the sea. Just as God threw “the horse and his rider” into the sea, the sea wants Bartley (and all other young men) so badly that the gray pony knocks him into the water even before he leaves on his dangerous voyage. Bartley’s horses illuminate the title of Riders to the Sea, as the riders are Bartley and Michael, both of whom are riding to their deaths.

Bartley’s Horses Quotes in Riders to the Sea

The Riders to the Sea quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bartley’s Horses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Spirituality and Mourning Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Riders to the Sea published in 1993.
Act 1 Quotes

If it was a hundred horses, or a thousand horses you had itself, what is the price of a thousand horses against a son where there is one son only?

Related Characters: Maurya (speaker), Bartley, Michael
Related Symbols: Bartley’s Horses
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
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He went by quickly; and “the blessing of God on you,” says he, and I could say nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony, and there was Michael upon it—with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet.

Related Characters: Maurya (speaker), Bartley, Michael
Related Symbols: Bartley’s Horses
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
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Bartley’s Horses Symbol Timeline in Riders to the Sea

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bartley’s Horses appears in Riders to the Sea. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
Age and Gender Theme Icon
As Bartley uses the rope to make a halter for his horse, he instructs Cathleen on taking care of certain chores once he is gone, though Maurya... (full context)
Spirituality and Mourning Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
...She then saw Michael in fine clothes and shoes riding behind Bartley on a gray pony. Cathleen immediately begins to keen, believing that this is an omen of death for Bartley,... (full context)
Spirituality and Mourning Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
The Power of the Sea Theme Icon
...with a bit of sail covering it. One of the women tells Cathleen that Bartley’s horse knocked him into the sea. (full context)