What is an example from lines 1-126 of Beowulf that contains kennings written as possessives? (ex: "Hell’s captive" refers to Grendel being captured in Beowulf’s arm.)

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To review, a kenning is a phrase that metaphorically refers to a noun in an indirect fashion. Beowulf is brimming with kennings, and so there are plenty of examples of the poetic device throughout the epic poem. In line 1-126, there are many kennings that are written as possessives. I've included a couple of examples below (all of these quotes are taken from Seamus Heaney's excellent translation of the poem):

  1. "The sea's flood" (30): this possessive kenning indirectly refers to the sea's tide, metaphorically representing the ocean's ebb and flow with the verb "flood." 
  2. "The ocean's sway" (42): another possessive kenning that refers to the ocean, this metaphorical phrase aims to represent the motion of the sea's waves with the verb "sway."
  3. "Cain's clan" (106): in some ways, this phrase directly refers to the descendants of Cain, a Biblical figure who murdered his brother, Abel. When looked at in another way, however, we can see "Cain's clan" as a possessive kenning that indirectly refers to all those cast out and isolated from the mercy of God and spiritually blessed communities. 

These are only a couple of examples of possessive kennings in Beowulf. Once you're familiar with the device, it becomes easy to spot, so I'd encourage you to search the text for more kennings to see how many you find. 

francesyoungedu eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A kenning is a description used in place of the name of a person, place, thing or idea. Many kennings from the Dark Ages (ca. 500-800 A.D.) are hyphenated words which, together, become an adjective functioning as a noun.

This question asks specifically about possessive kennings in lines 1-126. The information I give below is from the Seamus Heaney translation of the poem, Beowulf:

Line 3:  "We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns."

This kenning refers to the line of Danish kings.


Line 6: "This terror of the hall-troops had come far."

The invading soldiers' terror was of Shield Sheafson.


Line 30: "They shouldered him out to the sea's flood..."

The "sea's flood" is the incoming tide, isn't it?


Line 95: "...to be the earth's lamplight, lanterns for men..."

This kenning refers back directly to the sun and the moon (l. 94).


literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are multiple kennings in the epic text, Beowulf, which shows a possessive.

1. Chapter two refers to Grendel as a "death-shadow." This refers to the fact that he belongs in darkness given his exile by God based upon his kinship to Cain.

2. Also in chapter two, one finds another reference to Grendel-- "man-hater." Grendel possess hatred for man, especially the Danes, given they are able to revel in the light because they are looked upon by God with favor.

3. One last possessive kenning appears, again, in chapter two. Here, not only is a kenning used, alliteration is as well (another popular device used in Anglo-Saxon texts). The "haunts of these hell-wizards" depicts the dwellings of those damned to hell.

smuchmore | Student

A kenning is a compound word that takes the place of a noun. It enhances writing by using compound words that are more descriptive than the original noun. It is a metaphor. An example of a kenning is the compound words "molder of minds" instead of "teacher". There are three types of kennings used in Anglo-Saxon literature:

1. Open - adjective and a noun replaces noun.

2. Hyphenated -  two nouns connected with a hyphen replaces a noun.

3. Prepositional - preposition used to connect two nouns.

4. Possessive - shows possessive using s' or 's.

Beowulf uses kennings extensively. Some examples of  kennings are:

  • whale-road (the sea)
  • mead hall (drinking establishment)
  • middle-earth (the area between heaven and hell)
  • mankind's enemy (Grendel)
  • the living sorrow of Healfdane's son (Hrothgar)