is a metaphoric compound used in place of a noun in Old English
and Old Norse
poetry. Poems like Beowulf
are saturated with kennings - these devices were clearly thought of as one of the most artful forms of poetic expression. According to the Oxford English Dictionary
, the term "kenning" was first used in medieval Icelandic treatises on poetry. The term is related to the Old English word cennan
, to declare, and the Old Norse kenna
, to know or to name.
Kennings are often beautiful and mysterious - they are like delicious little riddles that constantly pop up, and figuring them out can be both challenging and fun.
OE: hron rad, or "whale road" = the sea
ON: hranna há-dýr, or "great wave beasts" = ships
ON: svana fjöll, or "swans' mountains" = waves
OE: roderes candel, or "Heaven's candle" = the sun
OE: banhus, or "bone house" = the human body
OE: lyftfloga or "sky-flyer" = a dragon
Some kennings are more obscure and thus harder to decipher, for example:
OE: fugol wyn or "bird's joy" = feather
OE: fela laf or "files' leaving" = sword (i.e. what is left when the metal is filed)
Some of these old poetic devices entered common usage, and a few even survive to this day. For example:
ON: vindauga, or "wind eye", became Middle English windoghe which became modern English "window".