Kennings - Bibb County Schools

Where it all began…
 During the 5th century,
Germanic tribes people known
as Angles, Saxons and Jutes
began to settle in the British
Isles. The Anglo-Saxon period
lasted for 600 years and, in
that time, the language,
culture and politics of the
British Isles were completely
 Anglo Saxon dialect words
form the basis of the language
we now call Old English, and
approximately one third of
Anglo-Saxon vocabulary still
survives into modern English.
 Describe some characteristics of rap music. What
makes it “rap?”
 Think of some of the things you had to learn as a small
child. How did your parents and/or teachers help you
remember those things?
 Since written word and literate people were very rare in
the Anglo-Saxon times, travelling poets called scops or
bards would entertain townspeople with epic poems.
The poems were very rhythmical and rhymed so they
would be easy to remember and recite.
 About 400 Anglo Saxon texts live
on from this era, including many
beautiful poems. Many of these
tell of wild battles and heroic
journeys. The famous poem
Beowulf tells the story of a
bloodthirsty monster called
Grendel. Beowulf is much
admired for the richness of its
poetry - for the beautiful sounds
of the words and the imaginative
quality of the description.
Hie dygellond
warigeath, wulfhleoþu, windige næssas,
wolf ... windy
fen (marsh) ... stream
ðær fyrgen-stream
under næssa genipu
niþer gewiteð,
flod under foldan. Nis þæt feor heonon
flood under ... that
mil-gemearces, þæt se mere standeð
miles ... lake ... stands
ofer þæm hongiað hrinde bearwas,
over ... hangs
wudu wyrtum fæst wæter oferhelmað.
wood ... water
þær mæg nihta gehwæm nið-wundor
may (at) night ...wonder
fyr on flode. No þæs frod leofað
fire on flood
gumena bearna þæt þone grund wite
bairn (child), ground (bottom of lake)
ðeah þe hæð-stapa hundum geswenced,
heorot hornum trum holtwudu sece,
horn wood
feorran geflymed, ær he feorh seleð,
aldor on ofre, ær he in wille
hafelan (hydan). Nis þæt heoru stow:
hide ... place
þonon yð-geblond up astigeð
won to wolcnum, þonne wind styreþ
wind stirs (stireth)
lað gewidru, oð þæt lyft drysmaþ,
roderas reotað. Nu is se ræd gelang
eft æt þe anum. Eard git ne const,
frecne stowe, ðær þu findan miht
stow = place, there thou might find
 About a third of the words in Beowulf are words
known as kennings. Kennings are words that are in
themselves metaphorical descriptions, and were a
typical feature of Anglo Saxon poetry.
 Kennings combine two words to create an evocative
and imaginative alternative word. By linking words in
this way, the poets were able to play and experiment
with the rhythm, sounds and imagery of the poetry.
Beowulf contains over a thousand kennings.
In off the moors, down through the mist-bands
God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
The bane of the race of men roamed forth,
hunting for a prey in the high hall.
Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it
until it shone above him, a sheer keep
of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time
he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling although never in his life, before or since,
did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders.
Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead
and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door
turned on its hinge when his hands touched it.
From Seamus Heaney’s translation of ‘Beowulf’
 Some well-known Anglo-Saxon kennings include:
 bone-house (banhus ) - the human body
 battle-light (beadoleoma) - sword
 wave-floater (wægflota) – ship
 Descriptions of the sea included:
 whale road (hronrad)
 fish home (fiscesethel)
 seal bath (seolbæp)
 Try to create some kennings. See if you can describe
yourself or your home or school using this technique.
 Consider:
 How do the kennings help you describe what you're
trying to say?
 Do they affect the rhythm and the sound of the
 Do you find this technique easier/ more creative/
harder/ more confusing or more powerful than using
everyday words?
 Write your own kenning style poem, selecting an
animal, insect, fish, bird, or a creature of your own
imagination and write a poem about it in the style of
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