Anglo-Saxon poets certainly have a way with words. One of their favorite means of adding linguistic interest to their poems is the kenning. A kenning is a compound word or short phrase that stands as a unique and vivid metaphor for something common. It helps the audience see an everyday thing from a new perspective and through the eyes of wonder.
Beowulf is filled with kennings. Let's explore some of those found in the dragon episode in the last third of the poem. The poet calls the dragon's lair the eorðsele, the earth-hall (line 2232), thus comparing and contrasting it to a king's mead hall. This “hall” of the dragon is definitely not a place of joy and gift-giving. Rather, it is a place deep in the earth where the dragon hoards his treasure and hides it from prying eyes and greedy hands.
The dragon himself is called uhtsceaða, night-predator (line 2270). He is the enemy that lurks in the dark, just before daylight, doing harm to all he meets. He is also the lyftfloga, air-flyer (line 2315), the hordweard, hoard-guardian (line 2302), and the guðsceaða, battle-destroyer (line 2318). The poet multiples these kennings to give the audience a dramatic portrait of the dragon and his danger.
Indeed, this fire-breathing menace even dares to burn Beowulf's own hall, melting the gifstol, gift-seat (line 2327), Beowulf's own throne where the guðkyning, “battle-king” (line2335) would distribute gifts to his thanes. Now Beowulf must plot revenge against the widflogan, “far-flier” (line 2346), the dragon.
We can see how these kennings, which are vivid, metaphoric compounds, greatly enhance the poem and its beauty.