In her book, Saved by a poem, Kim Rosen writes, “Human beings are creatures of rhythm. The fluids within our bodies pulse, our hearts throb, our breath comes in rhythmic patterns that change with our emotions.” Rosen also explains that “the rhythm, drumbeat, and breath” can “dissolve the walls between the conscious and the unconscious. To me, spring is the time of year when rhythms are at their peak. The peepers are the first to pulsate the air, and they are soon followed by the various species of returning birds, the animals appearing from their winter dens, the leaves budding and suddenly opening, the rivers flowing, and on and on. Just when I think it will never be green again here in northern Vermont, everything is green.
Rosen explains: “…rhythm in a poem is like the drumbeat under a piece of music. Just as different drumbeats cause the boundaries of the daily mind to melt, a poem has its own rhythm that changes the consciousness of the reader, listener, and speaker.” I consider chants as poems with the rhythm amped up. But it can’t be any rhythm. You might consider a limerick to have an amped up rhythm, but the particular beat of the limerick, where the stresses lie and the cadence of the beat, lends itself to humor, not seriousness (though like chanting, laughing has beneficial effects).
In the chant above, there is a very carefully laid out rhythm. Let’s go from macro to micro. There are seven stanzas in the poem, and in each stanza there are seven lines. In each line there are seven syllables, but we need to look even closer. Each line starts with an accented syllable and is followed by an unaccented syllable (this is called a trochee as opposed to an iamb, which is a set of two syllables in which the first syllable is accented, such as the word, “enough” or the phrase, “I won’t“). The trochee pattern continues throughout each line three times, and each line ends with an additional stressed syllable. Perhaps you feel that this pattern, repeated 49 times in the entire poem, is way too monotonous. Well, it’s supposed to be. It’s a chant, and a chant by definition is “a kind of singing using a small number of musical notes that are repeated many times.”
Chanting has been used for thousands of years to alter consciousness, to pass on information, and to record events. In Hawaii, the “oli” is an elaborate chant that was composed to record historical events and every day occurrences. Another use for chanting can be found in the ancient Chamorro culture of Guam when women would chant litanies at funerals. Of course, there’s the Gregorian chant, too. Many believe that chanting has a healing effect, brought on by the movement of sound waves through the body. According to Harmonic Sounds: The Association of Sound Therapy, “All matter is sound, and emits sound, although these sounds are mostly beyond our limited physical sense of hearing. Our physical bodies, therefore, are also resonant electromagnetic fields, as are our auras, both generated by the atoms of which we consist.”
What this boils down to is sound is important. Pay attention to the sounds around you, and make some beautiful sounds yourself, maybe even through a bit of chanting.
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Bodhran – that’s my Irish drum that I took a picture of and displayed my chant on. I’m learning to play, little by little.
Check this out – you won’t believe your eyes – and ears!
Sand Vibrations with Chladni Plate