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Kennings In Beowulf

What's a good example of a kenning in Beowulf?

Examples of kennings in Beowulf include “whale-road” to mean the sea, “light-of-battle” to mean a sword, “battle-sweat” to mean blood, “raven-harvest” to mean a corpse, “ring-giver” to mean a king, and “sky-candle” to mean the sun. A kenning is a descriptive, compound phrase with metaphorical meaning that stands in for a noun.

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Kennings are metaphorical compound words, and they were used to great extent in Old English and Old Norse poetry. They function as a way to make an ordinary noun more descriptive or awe inspiring. For example, "teacher" sounds mundane. "Student-transformer" sounds way better. Beowulf has plenty of kennings. One of my favorites is "sleep of the sword" instead of "death." "Breaker of rings" refers to a king and the action of breaking gold rings off of his arm to give to someone else as a reward. Another one that I especially like is "mind's worth" for "honor." Most readers know what honor is, but "mind's worth" seems much more immediately descriptive and accessible in terms of conveying meaning. "Whale road" and "sail road" are both used to describe the sea.

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Instead of giving us an abstract word to stand for an object, a kenning describes the object by comparing it to something else, usually mashing two concrete images together to paint a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

Beowulf makes frequent use of kennings, which add life and zest to this epic poem. Some examples are as follows:

A monster like Grendel, who comes and kills at night, is called, quite aptly, a "twilight-spoiler." He does, in fact, ruin the merry times at night in the mead hall.

The text refers to a sword as "filed leavings." This makes sense when thinking of how metal is sharpened and shaped into a sword: it is what is left (the "leavings") when all the unnecessary metal is honed away.

A battle is called a "sword storm," and that too paints a vivid picture of what a medieval battle must have been like, with swords flashing like lightning and crashing like thunder.

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In Old English, a "kenning" is a compound expression that has a figurative or metaphorical meaning. An example is "light-of-battle," used to mean a "sword" in the following example from Beowulf: "But the warrior found the light-of-battle was loath to bite, to harm the heart." Another example is "battle-gear," meaning "armor," and "battle-sweat," to mean "blood," as in the following example, "That war-sword then all burned, bright blade, when the blood gushed o'er it, battle-sweat hot." When Beowulf is battling Grendel's Mother, he refers to losing "battle-sweat." Kennings were common in Anglo-Saxon and Viking literature and were used to add poetic dimension to terms that were often used in their language, such as the sea, battles, or armor. Kennings use metaphorical language to describe these common objects in new and descriptive ways. 

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It should be noted in this regard different kennings have been used to describe a single object in different parts of Beowulf. For example ‘sea’ has been described as “sail road” and “swan road” in different sections of this Anglo-Saxon poem. Other good examples of kenning include: “the foamy-necked floater” (used for ‘ship’) and “sea wolf of the depths” (used for ‘Grendel’s mother’).

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A kenning is a metaphorical phrase or compound word used to name a person, place or thing indirectly. Used primarily in Anglo-Saxon poetry, the epic poem Beowulf is full of kennings. For example, the term whale-road is used for the sea and "shepherd of evil" is used for Grendel. Other well known kennings include "battle sweat" for blood; "raven harvest" for corpse; and "sleep of the sword" for death.

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baylor-blair | Student

Kennings are a very specific type of metaphor used in Old English verse, where the thing being described is replaced with a compound phrase which metaphorically describes some aspect of the thing. For instance, instead of the sea, the Beowulf poet uses the phrase "whale's-road", which is both an evocative image and a stand-in for the word "sea".

zykistewart23 | Student

bear of wolves

sbrownfi | Student

A kenning was simply a compound metaphor of two or more words. In theory, kennings can be multiple words, but in practice, they were usually two or sometimes three word combinations. The poem is replete with examples. Beowulf's name itself is a riddle in the form of a kenning: Beo=Bee+wulf=wolf (the wolf of bees, i.e. a bear)

Kings are called ring givers, swords are called battle gleams, the sea is called the whale road or the swan road, the sun is called sky candle and heaven's joy.

There are literally hundreds of examples.