What's an example of a kenning in Beowulf?

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teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Kennings are a feature of Anglo-Saxon poetry in which two words, usually images, which are words that describe what you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell, are joined together to name an idea or object. Kennings are a form of metaphor, which means describing one object in terms of another, for example using a beautiful red rose to describe love. In kennings, the metaphors are tightly connected to the objects or concepts they describe, and can give us information about the preoccupations and technology of a culture. Examples of kennings in Beowulf include writing "battle sweat" to describe blood, "sword sleep" for death and "raven harvest" for a corpse. A particularly evocative kenning in Beowulf is "sky candle" as a description of the sun. Grendel is described as "hell-forged." A king or chief is called "breaker of the rings," because he would wear gold rings on his arm and then break them and give away pieces as rewards to his subjects. Finally, in addition to the "whale's way," the sea is also called the "swan road" and the "sail road."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A kenning is an aspect of Anglo-Saxon poetry where two words are combined to create a powerful, creative and evocative alternative word, which act as strong metaphors. The Anglo-Saxon poets played around with words in this way to experiment with the sound and feel of words and their works. There are plenty of examples in this famous Anglo-Saxon text, including "bone-house" for the human body, "battle-light" for sword and "wave-floater" for ship. Note the following kenning in the following quote:

In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and began to pay tribute. That was one good king.

The description of the sea as a "whale-road" is particularly evocative, as it helps create a powerful image of the sea as the habitat of enormous sea creatures, mysterious in their own right, such as whales, who use the sea as their "road" in the way that humans use roads. This helps highlight or augment the bravery of those who travel on these so-called "whale-roads," as they are choosing to travel with such enormous creatures.

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