Potash Hill

Clear Writing

Every Word Has a Natural Rhythm 
By Lindsay Stevens '17

A seanchaí, meaning bearer of “old lore,” is a traditional storyteller and historian of Ireland. Today seanchaithe use oral stories that have been passed down to them in addition to written tales. But before written language, they were servants to the chiefs of the clans and were responsible for keeping track of and remembering important information. This information included the history and laws of their clans, long lyric poems, folktales, and mythology.

Seanchaithe were highly respected members of their clans, though not all served the clan chiefs. Some traveled from one community to another, exchanging their skill for food and shelter. Others were members of the community: village storytellers who told stories at ceremonies and community events.

A seanchaí has a distinct style of storytelling that focuses on speech and gestures, similar to those found in conversation. The biggest indicator of the style is the use of words that are easily heard and understood. This is because the first responsibility of a storyteller  is to their audience’s ability to understand the story.

Most seanchaithe avoid using technical terms, or language used in specialized fields. Their words are often short and concise, but not lacking in texture or pattern. Storytellers recognize that every word has a natural rhythm and inflection that can either aid or harm a story, and that having a strong vocabulary will allow the storyteller to flow between phrases.

One way of heightening the natural flow of words is the use of multiple synonyms. This technique takes one word and attaches other words with a subtle difference: such as gleam, glisten, shine, and shimmer. Another technique is to use short sentences and words. Many seanchaithe use a wide selection of one-syllable words to tell their story. This prevents them from using overly flowery language and keeps the story moving.

Excerpted from Lindsay’s paper on storytelling in Ireland, part of her Plan of Concentration in theater, photography, and writing that included a personal narrative performance titled “The Things I Never Said” (pictured). Lindsay’s was one of several Plans from the class of 2017 added to Marlboro’s online Virtual Plan Room. See more at marlboro.edu/vpr.

Photo by Ben Rybisky ‘18