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A kenning is an Anglo-Saxon poetic device that allows the writer to describe someone or something in a more creative and impressive way. We can infer that this practice was especially important in a civilization that did not write down its stories or histories, but passed them along in the oral tradition, i.e., storytelling. It was something that went beyond a form of entertainment: it was also something that recorded history for generations to come. A storyteller, known as a scop, would often pass his or her knowledge and stories to a son or daughter. (It was not a patriarchal society, so women were seen as equals, and a woman could be a scop.) Some scops traveled, staying at a castle or mead hall, cared for and welcomed until the stories ran out. A traveling scop would have the ability to pick up other stories along the way. For a well-established leader or king, a resident scop lived there permanently and would sing or recite stories and history to entertain those in the hall or around the fire.
We are accustomed to reading stories, but in the Anglo-Saxon period people listened to them and the language was especially important in creating images in the minds of the listeners so that the story would come alive.
The vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon is extensive and imaginative, and it reflects the importance in the literature of strong, suggestive images.
Imagery is what allows language to become so colorful by appealing to the senses. It is found in all kinds of literature but especially in poetry—which was originally spoken aloud and meant to be shared that way. Of course, with the Anglo-Saxons it was also a way of recording a clan or tribe's history before the monks of the early Catholic Church began to record stories, etc., on paper.
Examples are endless. In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the author uses all kinds of literary devices for his epic poem. An example of imagery is:
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!
The imagery employed here relies on the sense of sound, first with repetition: "The ice was…" This gives the listener the sense (creates a mental image) of a boat surrounded on all sides by ice. Personification is also used appeal to our sense of sound as the ice "cracked and growled, and roared and howled…" Again it is present in, "The ice did split with a thunder-fit…"
For the Anglo-Saxon storyteller, using a kenning created imagery. This device would form words (often two) to create an image. The words joined (making compound words) were nouns that served as adjectives:
This last method—making compounds, resulted in some of the most imaginative and powerful images in the literature. Anglo-Saxon is typified by a unique brand of condensed metaphor, called a “kenning,” in which (a) is compared to (b) without (a) or the [object] of [the] comparison being made explicit.
So how does it work? Look at the following kenning for blood:
Blood is shed during battle. It is a liquid produced by the body. In this case, rather than repeating the word blood continuously, one could substitute this kenning to make the storytelling more exciting by providing Anglo-Saxon imagery. Kennings were also tricks of the scop's trade:
Because Anglo-Saxon poetry was originally oral rather than written, the poet had to rely on several different tricks to help himself remember the material. These kennings became like open patterns, different words could be replaced to change the meaning or work within a certain alliteration or rhythm.
In Beowulf in Chapter XI, Grendel approaches the mead hall with glee at the thought of so many men asleep there that he can attack and eat. He...
...ripped open the house's mouth in his furious rage...
This means he ripped open the door. The kenning's imagery is more impactful than saying Grendel ripped open the door. The ripping of the "mouth" transmits an image of violence or fear to the listener. Another kenning is "whale's home," which means ocean. "Ale-sleep" might mean drunkenness. In one version of Beowulf, his sword is described as a "warrior's joy." In Chapter XXII, "wolf of the waves" refers to Grendel's monstrous mother who dwells in the watery marshes not far from Hrothgar's mead hall.
For your question, think of things you might describe in your life. A notebook might be a "knowledge keeper." A football helmet could be described as a "head protector." A photo might be an "image master" or "picture capturer."
Think about your teacher's job—things that he or she does as part of teaching—and join it with where he or she does the job; then you can create your own kenning. It seems likely that you might refer to the classroom, a hallway (cafeteria, study hall, coaching field, etc.), or anywhere on the school's campus or in the school building where the teacher works.
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