What's an example of a kenning in Beowulf?

An example of a kenning in Beowulf is "shepherd of evil," which is used to describe Grendel. The large, scary monster is also known as a "guardian of crime" in the very same sentence.

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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.

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A kenning is a metaphorical compound expression commonly used in Old English and Old Norse texts to describe something or someone. They usually make their subject seem grand and awe-inspiring. As a result, a kenning is a good device for an epic poem such as Beowulf, which is all about being larger than life.

In Beowulf, one of the most famous examples of a kenning is "whale-road." The term is used to describe the sea. This is a creative way of going about that: land-dwelling human beings might take the sight of the sea for granted, but by calling it a "whale-road," the poet is magnifying the sense of awe associated with the size and depth of the it. After all, to whales (themselves large and awe-inspiring to human beings), it might as well be a road! Humans traveling by boat might be said to travel this "road" as well.

Another example of a kenning is "raven-harvest," meaning a corpse on the battlefield. Once again, this is a creative way of describing a subject: for a raven, an animal which is known to dine on carrion, a dead body would be a harvest. "Battle-sweat" describes the blood shed in battle, emphasizing the violence of the battle itself by making blood appear as common as sweat.

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A kenning is a metaphorical phrase or compound used to describe a person, place, or thing. The words used to make up a kenning are generally very evocative and conjure up distinct images in the mind's eye.

There are numerous kennings in the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. One such kenning comes in relation to the fearsome monster Grendel, who's been wreaking merry havoc upon the hapless Danes, regularly barging his way into Heorot and carrying off warriors whom he eats later on in his cavernous lair.

It is entirely appropriate, then, that Grendel should be described as "the guardian of crime." One can imagine Grendel standing at the entry to his cave hiding the evidence of the vicious crimes he's committed against so many Danish warriors. In guarding his cave, he's also guarding the evidence of his crimes.

Grendel is also described as "the shepherd of evil." A shepherd, of course, is someone who herds sheep. But they are also supposed to protect them from external threats, such as ravenous wolves. Grendel, then, is protecting evil in much the same way as he guards the evidence of his crimes. It's notable that the two kennings follow each other in the same sentence, an indication that they are closely linked.

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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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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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