Guide to Literary Terms

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Write at least one original kenning for each of the following nouns: poet, dagger, ship, stars, singer, and river.

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A kenning is a poetry term originating from Old Norse or Old English that replaces a noun. These terms are generally compound expressions of figurative language that replace single word nouns. For example, the term “ankle biter” is used for a small child. Kennings can be hyphenated (such as four-eyes) or non-hyphenated (such as pencil pusher). They are frequently adjective/verb combinations. Kennings can contain personification such as referring to a bracelet as an “arm serpent.”

A poet could be a “word smith” or a “text artist.” A dagger could be a “blood drawer.” A ship could be a “wave cradle.” Stars could be “night lighters” or “space sparklers.” A singer could be a “lyric-lover” or a “rhythm rider.” A river could be a “fish carrier” or as the ocean is described in Beowulf, a “whale-path.”

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A kenning is a descriptive phrase that is used in place of a standard noun.  Many kennings are compound phrases: wound-tool in place of sword.  Others use possesive phrases: wave's horse in place of ship.

Kennings are commonly found in Old Icelandic and Old English poetry.  Beowulf, the famous Old English poem contains the following kennings:

a) segl-rad (sail-road) for sea;

b) heofon-candel (heaven-candle) for sun;


Here are some possible kennings for the words that you have presented:

a) poet: verse-writer, feelings-singer

b) dagger: back-stabber

c) ship: wave-rider, cargo-carrier

d) stars: heaven's twinklers

e) singer: song-belter

f) river: banks' flow

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