Kennings In Beowulf

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

Quick Answer

Kennings are compound, descriptive phrases with metaphorical meanings that stand in for ordinary nouns and proper nouns in Old English or Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse poetry. The epic poem Beowulf is full of good examples of kennings, including “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.

Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

suman1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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’).

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.

zykistewart23 | Student

bear of wolves