Kennings are metaphors composed of vivid compound words or short phrases. Kennings are often found in Old English poems like Beowulf, and they add an element of intense description and beauty, highlighting the power of language to surprise and delight. Let's look at some examples of kennings.
“Light-flashing” refers to a bright object, something that reflects light. In the case of a battle poem, the kenning usually refers to a sword. We can easily picture the sunlight glimmering as a warrior raises his sword in battle, perhaps leading a charge or bringing the weapon down against an enemy.
“Grim-death” refers to death on the battlefield. The Old English word for “grim” may also be translated as “fierce,” so this is the death of a warrior in the midst of battle.
“Doughty-in-battle” is a brave warrior, a warrior who does not turn away from the enemy and who fights to the death for his lord. In ancient Germanic culture, courage and glory were more important than life or death. A warrior would risk himself to prove himself and win glory, even if he died in the process.
“Fate-cursed” refers to someone or something that is doomed. This being or object will not survive. One might say that in Beowulf, Grendel is “fate-cursed,” for as soon as Beowulf meets him in Heorot, he has no chance of victory or survival.
“Battle-grim” speaks about both the atmosphere of a battle and the attitude of the warrior. A wind, for instance, might blow “battle-grim” to suggest the coming of a fight. There is a fierceness in the very air. A warrior, too, may be battle-grim as he prepares for a fight from which he may not emerge alive. Yet he is ready; he is stern and fierce. He will meet whatever comes with courage.