The word “ring-giver” is an example of a kenning. What are some other examples of kennings in Beowulf?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In relation to Anglo-Saxon literature, a "kenning" can be defined as a metaphorical phrase or compound word used to name a person, place, or thing. Kennings abound in Beowulf; the poem's four-beat alliterative lines allow for a huge variety of them to be used. As well as "ring-giver," we have "battle-sweat" meaning blood. And in his brutal epic encounter with Grendel's Mother, Beowulf does indeed shed a fair amount of battle-sweat. Another one is "sail road" meaning the sea. If you think about it, a sail road is exactly what the sea is to Anglo-Saxon warriors like Beowulf. They routinely set sail upon the high seas to trade, fight battles, and explore new lands.

"Sleep of the sword" is a particular favorite of mine. You won't be surprised to discover that it means "death." Notice how two concepts have been yoked together: the sleep of death and the method used to bring it about. Like "battle-sweat" and "sail road," "sleep of the sword" provides us with a glimpse into Anglo-Saxon culture, where death, especially to brave and noble warriors, often came at the end of a sword.

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Blake Douglas eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Kennings are compound metaphors common in literature derived from Old Norse linguistic traditions. Functionally they appear may appear frivolous or unnecessarily abstract, but are intended to provide imagery and dexterity to the poet in order to avoid repeating words or to improve the narrative creativity of the work. "Ring-giver" is intended to emphasize the role of a king or leader as a benefactor and source of reward for good service, rings (or torcs, a type of collar or necklace) being a form of jewelry that often conferred status.

Kennings are found throughout "Beowulf" and comprise a significant portion of the text, both in narrative illustration and word count. "Ring-giver" is found on line 1102, and others in this portion of the text include "hate-bites" on 1122, referring to wounds, and "battle-light" on 1142, referring to a sword. 

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