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Tradition, Transmission, Transformation

Essays on Gaelic Poetry and Song

by Virginia Blankenhorn (Author)
Monographs XXII, 528 Pages

Summary

Since World War I, the self-contained communities of Gaelic-speaking Scotland, characterised by collaborative effort and a robust sense of communal identity, have been transformed. Improved transport and communications have brought today’s Gaelic speakers into the culture of mainstream Western society. Once an integral part of daily life, Gaelic singing has become an art form heard less at home than on concert platforms, at the Mòd, and on commercial recordings, where a «good voice» and emotive style – neither part of the traditional aesthetic – help singers differentiate themselves in the traditional music marketplace. Written in an accessible style and providing guidance for those wishing to access audible examples, this book will help both scholars and general readers grasp the magnitude of change as it has transformed an important aspect of Scottish Gaelic culture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures and Illustrations
  • List of Tables
  • Author’s Note
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I Tradition
  • Chapter 1 Verse Structure and Performance in Scottish Gaelic Vernacular Poetry
  • Chapter 2 A New Approach to the Classification of Gaelic Song
  • Part II Transmission
  • Chapter 3 Observations on the Performance of Classical Gaelic Syllabic Verse
  • Chapter 4 The Rev. William Matheson and the Performance of Scottish Gaelic Strophic Verse
  • Chapter 5 Griogal Cridhe: Aspects of Transmission in the Lament for Griogair Ruadh Mac Griogair of Glen Strae
  • Part III Transformation
  • Chapter 6 From Ritual to Rhetoric, from Rhetoric to Art: Women’s Poetry of Lamentation in the Gaelic World
  • Chapter 7 MacCrimmon’s Return: Traditional and ‘Bogus’ Elements in ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’
  • Chapter 8 Songs of the Hebrides and the Critics
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figures and Illustrations

Figure 1 Calum Johnston, ‘Ruidhleadh cailleach, sheatadh cailleach’. Reproduced by permission, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 2 William Matheson, ‘Thriall ur bunadh gu Pharao’. Transcribed by permission of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 3 Calum Johnston, ‘Mo cheud iomguin’. Reproduced by permission, School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 4 Mary Morrison and chorus, ‘Mo Rùn Ailein, hó hò’. Reproduced by permission of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 5 Flora Boyd and chorus, ‘Moch an diugh a rinn mi gluasad’. Reproduced by permission of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 6 Sciathlúireach Mhuire as adapted from Eugene O’Curry’s transcription.

Figure 7 Labhrás Ó Cadhla, Cathair na Léige. Reproduced by permission of Cló-Iarchonnachta.

Figure 8 Sciathlúireach Mhuire, simplified for performance at the Edinburgh workshop.

Figure 9 The Rev. William Matheson (1910–95). Photograph by the author.

Figure 10 ‘Clann Ghilleane 2’ from the Torloisg Manuscript.

Figure 11 Matheson’s sol-fa transcription of ‘Clann Ghilleane (2)’.

Figure 12 ‘Clann Ghilleane 2’ – Matheson’s sol-fa transposed back to staff notation.

Figure 13 Matheson’s adaptation of ‘Clann Ghilleane (2)’ in performance. ← ix | x →

Figure 14 Matheson’s performance, allowing the text to define the rhythm.

Figure 15 A bhean, leasaich an stop dhuinn in Matheson’s sol-fa notation.

Figure 16 A bhean, leasaich an stop dhuinn in Matheson’s performance, contrasted with his solfa transcription.

Figure 17 ‘Crònan Màiri Ni’an Alastair Ruaidh’ from the Angus Fraser MS. Reproduced by permission from Taigh na Teud.

Figure 18 Cha sùrd cadail – Matheson’s performance contrasted with Angus Fraser’s air.

Figure 19 ‘An Cronan’ from Donald Campbell’s A Treatise on the Language, Literature and Music of the Highland Clans.

Figure 20 An naidheachd so an-dè – Margaret Gillies’ performance as recorded by Frances Tolmie.

Figure 21 An naidheachd so an-dè – Matheson’s performance contrasted with Margaret Gillies’ air.

Figure 22 ‘Marbhrann Iain Ghairbh ’ic Gille-Chaluim’ [Lament for MacLeod of Raasay] from Angus Fraser Manuscript. Reproduced by permission from Taigh na Teud.

Figure 23 Mo bheud ’s mo chràdh – Matheson’s performance contrasted with Angus Fraser’s air.

Figure 24 Mo bheud is mo chràdh – Matheson’s performance of the fifth stanza.

Figure 25 ‘Fàilte Mhic Shimidh’ from the Angus Fraser MS. Reproduced by permission from Taigh na Teud.

Figure 26 Deoch-slàinte an Iarla thuathaich sin – Matheson’s performance of seven-line stanzas based on Part 1 of Fraser’s air.

Figure 27 Deoch-slàinte an Iarla thuathaich sin – Matheson’s performance of six-line stanzas based on Part 2 of Fraser’s air.

Figure 28 Melodic motifs occurring in the caoineadh [keen] from Aran.

Figure 29 ‘The Maid of Lochawe’ from Finlay Dun’s Orain na h-Alban. ← x | xi →

Figure 30 ‘Cumha Ghriogair MhicGriogair’ from Celtic Monthly 1 (1893).

Figure 31 ‘Griogair Cridhe’ as sung by Christopher MacDonald, Acharn, Perthshire. Reproduced by permission of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 32 Griogal Cridhe as recorded by Frances Tolmie, ‘105 Songs’.

Figure 33 ‘Ba ba ba mo leanabh’ from the Elizabeth Ross Manuscript. Reproduced by permission of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh.

Figure 34 ‘Moch air maduinn latha Lunaisd’ from the Angus Fraser Manuscript. Reproduced by permission of Taigh na Teud.

Figure 35 Comparison of airs recorded in Skye, Harris, Lewis and N. Uist. Recordings from the 1950s transcribed by permission of the BBC Scotland Gaelic Archive (Peggy Morrison), the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh and individual rights holders.

Figure 36 Comparison of airs recorded in the southern Hebrides. Transcribed by permission of the Canna Archives, National Trust for Scotland (Flora MacInnes), the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh and individual rights holders.

Figure 37 The ùrlar of Cha till mi tuille.

Figure 38 Variants of the pibroch song Cha till Mac Cruimein. Unpublished examples transcribed by permission of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh, and individual rights holders.

Figure 39 ‘Cha till e tuille – Lament for MacCrimmon’ from Lachlan MacBean’s Songs and Hymns of the Scottish Highlands, 1888.

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Tables

Table 1 Structure and performance of stanzaic verse

Table 2 Preliminary comparison of Scottish Gaelic and Irish verse practice

Table 3 James Ross’s catalogue of Gaelic song types

Table 4 Songs of introversion and extroversion

Table 5 Songs of introversion

Table 6 Songs of extroversion

Table 7 Group 1 – Songs to express subjective emotion

Table 8 Group 2 – Songs to accompany domestic life

Table 9 Group 3 – Songs to facilitate group labour

Table 10 Group 4 – Songs to lift the spirits

Table 11 Group 5 – Songs to inform/teach

Table 12 Group 6 – Songs to affirm group identity

Table 13 Published versions of ‘Cumha Ghriogair Ruaidh’ derived from the Turner Collection

Table 14 Published versions of ‘Cumha Ghriogair Ruaidh’ derived from oral sources

Table 15 Unpublished versions of ‘Cumha Ghriogair Ruaidh’

Table 16 Variants of Griogal Cridhe recorded from oral tradition

Table 17 Recordings of Cha till Mac Cruimein, Cumha Mhic Cruimein, Uamh an Òir and ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’ accessible at Tobar an Dualchais (<http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk>)

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Author’s Note

Over the past few years all of my scholarly investigations, despite their different starting-points, seem to end up asking the same questions.

What is tradition?

What does a community-based tradition of song and singing mean to the people who own it?

When a community of people who survived for centuries can no longer withstand the dynamic forces of change, how can we make sense of the cultural legacy they leave behind?

What does that legacy mean to us?

Thanks to the development and massive deployment of recording technology in the twentieth century, we now possess sound archives full of Gaelic song. We no longer have to guess at what a particular type of song sounded like, because we can listen for ourselves.

Grasping the meaning of such songs, however, is another matter. Unlike the nineteenth-century Gaels who published volumes of song-texts for a Gaelic-speaking readership, and unlike the twentieth-century Gaels who fanned out with tape recorders in a last-ditch effort to capture the singing of Gaels in both Scotland and Canada, most of us – Gaelic-speaking or not – did not ourselves grow up in traditional communities. Thoroughly assimilated to mainstream western culture and attuned to a different set of social and aesthetic norms, we no longer instinctively understand what the songs meant to those who composed and sang them. On the far side of this cultural watershed, we must carefully examine how we define ‘tradition’ in our own times, and reflect upon whether that definition will – or will not – encompass what has gone before. I hope that this book will help us unlock the legacy of Gaelic song, appreciate it on its own terms, and decide what it means to us.

This is primarily a scholarly book, and as such I hope that it will stimulate discussion among my fellow academics and their students. At the same time, I recognize that many people are curious about Gaelic song and long ← xv | xvi → to connect with it for a variety of cultural and personal reasons. There are also a great many musicians who see Gaelic song as a means of expressing themselves as artists, and who are turning to sound archives and printed volumes for material they can adapt and develop in performance.

For all of these, I hope these chapters will provide food for thought.

Virginia Blankenhorn

Edinburgh

December 2018

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Acknowledgements

No scholarly book – especially one that bites off as many different topics as this one does – is ever a solo production. I have a great many people to thank.

I must first express my appreciation of the Gaelic singers who contributed to the School of Scottish Studies Archives and other collections during the twentieth century, and of the collectors whose fieldwork preserved those voices for the study and enjoyment of people like me. Dr Cathlin Macaulay, Curator of the School of Scottish Studies Archives; Fiona J. Mackenzie, Archivist of John Lorne Campbell’s collection at Canna House (National Trust for Scotland); and Fiona MacKenzie of BBC Radio nan Gàidheal have all dealt sympathetically with my enquiries and helped me contact those who hold the legal rights to items in their collections. While every effort to contact these rights holders has been made, I must acknowledge that there were some who never responded, or who were untraceable owing to the passage of time.

The singers recorded for these archives during the twentieth century are a special group, as they are the first tradition-bearers whose unmediated voices we can hear for ourselves. This book would not have been possible without them, and every effort has been made to afford them the gratitude and respect that they deserve. People whose songs and commentary are transcribed and discussed in these pages include: Flora Boyd (Barra), Lizzie Higgins (Aberdeen), Calum Johnston (Barra), Christopher MacDonald (Acharn, Perthshire), Kate MacDonald (South Uist), Flora MacInnes (Eriskay), Jessie MacKenzie (Lewis), Nan MacKinnon (Vatersay), Angus Campbell MacLeod (Scalpay, Harris), Morag MacLeod (Scalpay, Harris), William Matheson (North Uist), Mary Morrison (Barra), Peggy Morrison (Harris), Peter Morrison (Grimsay), Kirsty Munro (Skye) and Jeannie Robertson (Aberdeen). Many other singers and tradition bearers are also named, and detailed guidance is provided wherever possible for readers who would like to hear their voices for themselves. The website Tobar an ← xvii | xviii → Dualchais (<http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk>) makes such listening possible, and readers are warmly urged to become familiar with it and to explore the world it embraces.

I am also pleased to acknowledge the following, who have kindly allowed me to reproduce materials in which they own copyright: to Cló Iar-Chonnachta, Indreabhán, Co. Galway, for permission to reproduce the transcription of ‘Cathair na Léige’ from Liam de Noraidh’s book Ceol ón Mumhain which appears in Chapter 3; to Taigh na Teud, Upper Breakish, Isle of Skye, for allowing me to reproduce ‘Cha till mi tuille – A bagpipe lament’ from their republication of Patrick McDonald’s A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs in Chapter 7; also three items from Angus Fraser’s manuscript, A Collection of the Vocal Airs of the Highlands of Scotland, in Chapter 4, and one item from the same collection in Chapter 5; to the estate of Sorley MacLean, two of whose poems, along with translations, appear under licence in Chapter 8; and to the editors and publishers of Scottish Studies, Studia Celtica, Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 6, and Oral Tradition for allowing me to substantially revise and republish essays which originally appeared in those publications.

In the early 1960s, Scottish painter Keith Henderson, OBE (1883–1982), was commissioned by the University of Edinburgh to produce a work celebrating the newly established School of Scottish Studies. His large oil painting ‘Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth)’ is now on display in the University Library’s Centre for Research Collections. Henderson eventually sent the preliminary sketch appearing inside the front cover of this book as a gift to Basil Megaw, Director of the School of Scottish Studies from 1957 to 1969. I am grateful to Dr Peter Knox-Shaw, the artist’s nephew, for helping me identify the rights holder in his uncle’s work, and to The Royal Watercolour Society and the estate of Keith Henderson for allowing its reproduction here.

Isaac Newton is often quoted as saying that ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. Whether the present work reveals any extraordinary farsightedness is debatable, but there is no doubt that without the practical help, insights and encouragement of others it would never have seen the light of day. A number of past and present academic colleagues have read, commented upon and ← xviii | xix → contributed to chapters in this book, and they deserve my heartfelt thanks. They include: Dr Per Ahlander, who helped me see the life and work of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser in a new light; Dr Peter Cooke of the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh and Dr Roderick D. Cannon of the University of East Anglia, two scholars whose knowledge of the bagpipe repertoire and painstaking review of my essay on ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’ helped to ensure that my very first scholarly publication became a reality; Dr William Gillies, Professor of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh, whose knowledge of dàn dìreach contributed greatly to my understanding of how it might have been performed; Dr William Lamb of the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, whose knowledge of Gaelic puirt-à-beul helped me make sense of its extraordinary variety; Dr Martin MacGregor of the University of Glasgow, whose knowledge of the history of Clan Gregor has greatly illuminated the background to Mòr Chaimbeul’s poetry; Dr John MacInnes of the School of Scottish Studies, who read everything I wrote and pointed out so many fruitful lines of enquiry that I cannot adequately record my thanks to him; Morag MacLeod of the School of Scottish Studies, whose willingness to share her family’s version of Cha till Mac Cruimein and her memories of working with the Rev. William Matheson were enormously helpful; Karen Marshalsay for her painstaking typesetting of the musical examples; Dr Peter Maslowski of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, whose discussion of the effects of battle on the human brain influenced my own understanding of the age-old rhetoric of lamentation; the Rev. William Matheson, who shared his family’s traditions relating to Uamh an Òir and their connection with the MacCrimmon legends; Dr Wilson McLeod of the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, whose chance observation that somebody ought to look into the critical response to Marjory Kennedy-Fraser led me to think that I might do so; Dr Nancy McGuire, who shared findings from her study of Amy Murray’s fieldwork in Eriskay in 1905, including a version of Griogal Cridhe that Murray collected there; Dr John Shaw of the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, and Dr Heather Sparling of Cape Breton University whose work underpins all that I have written here regarding the song traditions of Gaelic Canada; and Dr Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart of the University of the Highlands and Islands, whose ← xix | xx → eye-opening insights regarding the Gaels’ approach to sex (bawdy verse) and death (keening rituals and tradition) had an impact on two of the chapters in this book.

Finally, it must be admitted that the publishing of a scholarly book nowadays is no longer necessarily a profitable undertaking for either the author or the publisher, and authors are increasingly expected to bear some of the costs if they wish to see their work in print. I am therefore extremely grateful to the funding bodies listed below for their generosity in providing financial support for the printing of this volume.

Tapadh leibh uile.

Catherine

McCaig’s

Trust

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PART I

Tradition

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CHAPTER 1

Verse Structure and Performance in Scottish Gaelic Vernacular Poetry

Scholars agree that the Gaelic-speaking peoples of Ireland and Scotland are close relations – peoples whose language, culture and historical experience share common roots. Gaeldom undoubtedly enjoyed a cultural hegemony on both sides of the North Channel for a number of centuries. This focus on commonality, however, may have led to the discounting or minimizing of important cultural differences. In what follows we shall hope to shed light on one such area of difference, and in so doing to provide some food for thought regarding the complex web of historical, cultural and genealogical relationships connecting the Gaels of Scotland with their neighbours.

Scottish Gaelic verse is structurally similar to Irish accentual verse in many ways, and a clear genealogical relationship between them can be traced (see Table 1). In other aspects, however, and especially in terms of its larger organization, its musical structure, and its performance context, Scottish Gaelic verse poses a greater challenge than Irish. For while the great majority of Irish vernacular poems are organized in stanzas of regular length and sung to airs directly analogous to this stanzaic structure, Scottish Gaelic tradition includes a large body of poems composed in extended paragraphs of varying length which are thus not ‘stanzaic’, and in themselves suggest no obvious structural correspondence with any musical form. In addition, many poems that are composed in stanzas may be performed in a manner that suggests a larger overarching musical shape.

In both Irish and Scottish Gaelic verse, the majority of poetic texts tend to be descriptive and lyrical, devoted to such themes as love, eulogy, tragedy and loss. In both traditions, sung performance most frequently ← 3 | 4 → reflects the rhythm of ordinary speech. In Irish, a request for a song is ‘abair amhrán’ – ‘say a song’. In Scotland, John MacInnes recalls, ‘older [Gaelic] singers used to insist a song should be “told”’.1 It is clear that, in the Gaelic tradition of both Scotland and Ireland, musical performance is primarily intended to distil and enhance the emotional content of the poetic text, bringing it to life for the listener.

In Scotland, however, there is also another type of sung performance. The performance of a large number of songs – especially, but not exclusively, waulking songs – is characterized by a number of structural layers in which both the structure and the character of the verse seem to be at cross-purposes with the musical setting. What are we to make of the strikingly different aesthetic reflected in these performances, in which the texts’ lyrical qualities are subordinated to their ability to support the robust rhythm required by the work context? Was the poetry we now associate with waulking songs originally composed for this purpose, or subsequently adapted to it? What inspired the people responsible for this remarkable part of Scotland’s cultural heritage?

In what follows we shall first provide an overview of those elements of song structure and performance in which Scottish Gaelic tradition is clearly related to Irish practice. Against this background, we shall be better able to distinguish those characteristics which appear unique to Scotland, and to suggest some possible explanations for the evolution of Scottish Gaelic sung poetry as we know it today. Finally, we shall ask why the song traditions of the Scottish and Irish Gaels – whose shared language, history, and experience point to so many commonalities – differ in such fundamental ways, especially when it comes to performance. ← 4 | 5 →

Vernacular poetry in Scotland and Ireland

This is a paper about the versification of ordinary people, poets whose compositions have largely come down to us through oral rather than manuscript tradition.2 For while the complex interplay between literacy and ‘orality’ and the influence of written sources upon oral transmission – even in communities where literacy was not widespread – is indisputable, we shall be dealing here with the fundamental metrical elements found in Scottish Gaelic accentual verse – elements designed to reinforce the aural apprehension of the poet’s craft, and assure its stable transmission by oral means.

This is not the ‘official’ poetry, the carefully calibrated public poetry of the bardic schools. The court poets took pains, through the imposition of a complex set of rules and the use of a recondite poetic language, to ensure that bardic verse maintained a shroud of mystery that protected their elite status. While our discussion includes a few songs composed in what W. J. Watson calls ‘strophic’ metres, accentual forms used for the composition of formal panegyric following the demise of the poetic forms associated with Classical Gaelic, the majority of our examples will be taken from the structurally organic, emotionally vivid and unrestrained lyric verse that have come down to us through oral transmission.

As a general proposition it seems likely that vernacular Gaelic poetry has been composed in Scotland since at least the sixth century, when cultural and trading relationships between Ireland and the south-western kingdom of Dalriada flourished, and the Gaelic-speaking hegemony ← 5 | 6 → began to expand. By examining Scottish Gaelic verse-practice – the set of assumptions taken for granted by poets, as well as their more conscious choices – in the light of what we know regarding Irish versification, we will be better able to fix those points where a uniquely Scottish practice begins to emerge from the Irish matrix, and thus identify areas most likely to repay further enquiry.

Where striking differences between the Irish and Scottish traditions manifest themselves is at the level of stanzaic and supra-stanzaic organization, that is, how the lines are arranged in larger units, and how these larger units may or may not relate to one another in terms of systematic ornament, refrain elements and performance practice. In Ireland, the poetry that we know to have been sung is organized in stanzas of regular length, end-rhyme normally changes from one stanza to the next, and the musical structure is directly analogous to that of the stanza, which is to say that the beginning of a new stanza generally coincides with a fresh iteration of the air.

In Scotland, however, the presentation of a poem in writing often belies its structure in performance. What are we to make, for instance, of the practice of using the same end-rhyme in all stanzas of a poem? Or of the practice of what we may call ‘chain-linking’, in which the last line of one stanza is repeated as the first line of the next in performance? Or how about the waulking songs, in which the whole notion of stanza – judging from the printed text – appears to have gone by the board, until an actual performance reveals a complex pattern derived from the air and relying upon a dance-like interweaving of repeated elements, chain-linking, and the structural interaction of soloist and chorus? Or what about songs in which the number of lines varies from stanza to stanza, requiring the singer to subtly modify the air so as to create a consistent impression from one stanza to the next? These are questions which don’t arise in the context of Irish verse practice – or at least they haven’t done so yet, given the current state of our understanding of the musical performance of Irish verse. ← 6 | 7 →

Table 1. Structure and performance of stanzaic verse.

Note: Shaded area applies only to Scottish Gaelic verse performance ← 7 | 8 →

Once we have examined such questions, can we perhaps suggest when the development of versification in Scotland began to follow its own trajectory, quite apart from that of Irish verse-practice? Are any of the differences between Scottish and Irish verse-practice explicable by reference to historical events and developments? All of these are speculative questions, but they may suggest lines of future enquiry.

What sort of relationship are we talking about here between Irish and Scottish Gaelic verse-practice? Just as we can only find how closely two people are related by examining their DNA, we can only hope to know how much Scottish Gaelic verse-practice owes to Irish by examining some of the details.

To understand the structure of orally transmitted poetry in accentual metre, we must begin with the assumption that the foundation upon which the whole poetic structure rests is its audible reality. In the case of accentual poetry, this reality is supplied by the rhythm, the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, upon which the ear’s perception of ‘poetry’ (as opposed to another sort of utterance) depends. While many analysts heretofore have focused primarily on patterns of ornamentation, it is surely logical to defer consideration of ornament – rhyme, alliteration, vowel assonance and such features – until we are clear what’s being ornamented.

Over and above the accentual and ornamental systems, we have the performance system. That includes music – the musical structure, and the interaction, if any (certainly, in the Gaelic context), between singer and chorus and listeners. We shall come to the question of performance presently.

Rhythm

But first of all we need to consider rhythm, because rhythm is at the heart of everything. All poetry begins with an apprehension of rhythm. Ordinary speech is rhythmical – sometimes intentionally so – but poetry depends upon such rhythm if it is to be understood as poetry rather than prose or ← 8 | 9 → conversation. For while rhythm is present in speech as in a multitude of our daily activities, in poetry it is consciously and intentionally regulated. Poetry is the organization of speech, of sounds, in such a way that it resonates with the hearing ear, establishing a set of expectations in the minds of listeners and enabling them to anticipate the verse-structure as it unfolds in real-time. The foundation underlying that set of expectations is rhythm.

Biographical notes

Virginia Blankenhorn (Author)

Virginia Blankenhorn is an Honorary Fellow in Celtic and Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. She received a B.A. degree in music from Wellesley College, pursued post-graduate study in Celtic Studies at Harvard University, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the University of Edinburgh. She has held lectureships at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Ulster. Publications include works on modern Irish poetic metre, paralinguistic features in spoken Irish, and the repertoire of Connemara singer Seosamh ÓhÉanaí (Joe Heaney). She has published many articles on the song traditions of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland.

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Title: Tradition, Transmission, Transformation