In Yerma, a young wife yearns for the child she feels will complete her existence and give meaning to her life. Her husband prefers not to dwell on such things. His existence is defined by his work as a shepherd and farmer - meaning for him comes through the fruits of his labors in the fields, not in the home. This conflict becomes woven into the cultural fabric of the period - a struggle with God, honor, the institution of marriage, and the underlying sensuality of nature.
The culmination of the play's span of five years finds Yerma making a pilgrimage to the Saint of fertility, seeking her final chance at conceiving a child. The atmosphere is a combination of pagan ritual and Catholic rite, including dance and song, piety and revelry. A final tragic confrontation unfolds amidst the pilgrims' voices, uplifted in song.