In Beowulf, what are some examples of kennings and personification?
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In order to begin, one must understand the terms one is trying to identify. A kenning is simply another form of a metaphor. Essentially, a kenning (famous in Anglo-Saxon texts such as Beowulf) is a typically a two word phrase meant to elevate and beautify the language of the text. For example, battle sweat is a kenning for blood. Personification, on the other hand, is the giving of human characteristics to non-human/non-living things. For example, the sun smiled. People can smile; the sun cannot.
In regards to the text of Beowulf, many examples of kennings and personification can be found. Here are a few examples of each.
God- All-wielding Ruler, Guardian of Heaven, The Wielder of Glory.(Chapter III, lines 66-68.)
Grendel- Horrible Hermit (Chapter III, 52), devil from hell (Chapter III, 62).
Beowulf- chief of the strangers, War-troopers’ leader (Chapter V, lines 1 and 2).
Mouth- word-treasure (Chapter V, line 2).
King- Giver of rings (Chapter 6, line 34).
Sea- wave-billows (Chapter 7, line 22).
"The lances stood up." (Chapter 6,line 10).
"If death overtake me." (Chapter 7, line 75)
"The mere fishes’ mood was mightily ruffled." (Chapter 9, line 51)
"My obedient blade." (Chapter 9, line 59)
The authorship of Beowulf is a total mystery, and even the country in which it originated is in question. Although it is widely studied as the oldest extant epic poem in the English language, it is quite possible that it was not composed by an Englishman. The fact that the main characters come from what is now Denmark and Sweden lend credence to the claim that the poem was written by someone from that area rather than from England.
At any rate, it is quite apparent that the poem was written by someone who lived in a society in which battle was a proving ground for manhood and the sea was a major part of everyday life. We see this in the figurative language of the period, the kenning. A kenning is a two-word metaphor that serves to describe an important noun in an interesting way. The following kennings from Beowulf are associated with battle and the sea:
Spear din: battle
Bone crusher: Grendel
Sea road: ocean
Whale road: ocean
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