Use of Kennings

Topics: Beowulf, Poetry, The Reader Pages: 2 (505 words) Published: April 25, 2012
Essay 1: The Beowulf Poet’s Effective Use of Kennings
As I sit here reading Seamus Heaney’s modern translation of “Beowulf”, I realize what the poet is trying to portray and how he portrays it. Heaney’s use of the Anglo- Saxon poetic device of kenning brings about a different approach of reading (which seems to be more complex) yet allows the reader to still be able to derive the meaning of the story and what it’s about. Heaney uses a large number of kennings throughout the poem, “Beowulf”. Kennings, compound words or a phrases, can usually be synonyms/ substitutions/ circumlocutions, epithets, imaginative, allusive, metaphoric, mnemonic, or incongruous.

When reading the episode of the battle I came across many kennings that made the story more interesting and enjoyable for me. Some of the kennings I have chosen from the reading that I choose to discuss are synonyms, epithets, incongruous, and metaphoric kennings. Heaney uses epithets such as: “war-gear” (65, L.1441), “bone-cage of his body” (65, L.1445), “some hellish-turn-hole” (66, L.1513), and “heavens candle” (67, L.1571). These epithets are descriptive adjectives that the poet uses to describe the different things in the poem giving the reader more details and a clearer image. For example, “war-gear” (65, L.1441) is what we know as armor, “Bone-cage of his body” (65, L.1445) describes rib cages, “some hellish-turn-hole” (66, L.1513) means a bad place/area, and “heavens candle” (67. L.1571) is a fancier way of saying sky. Phrases such as “strong-built son” (65, L.1466), “gold-friend to retainers”

(65, L.1477), “ring-giver of rare magnificence” (66, L.1486), and “far-famed” (66, L.1489) are used from the poet as synonyms so that everyday nouns can sound more interesting to the reader. Heaney provides his readers with sense of humor as well with incongruous kennings. When I came across the kenning, “Swamp-thing from hell” (66, L.1518), I sensed humor. By adding incongruous kennings...

Cited: 1) Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature,
Volume A. The Major Authors. 8th Edition. NY: Norton. 2006.
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