Use of Kennings

1 January 2017

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”.

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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

By adding incongruous kennings Heaney is lightening up the mood for readers. Some of Heaney’s kennings that I came across myself are: “glory before death” (64, L. 1388) and “hard-pressed and enraged” (67, L. 1563). I found these two to be metaphoric because it does invite the reader’s intellectual and emotional participation. “Glory before death” (64, L. 1388), it makes you think what if the character dies before achieving glory. “Hard-pressed and enraged” (67, L. 1563), I as a reader feel the emotional aspect of being “enraged”.

After getting through the reading and going through examples we now see how Heaney uses the kenning to both elicit audience response and display his thematic purpose. There are many poetic devices that can be used and that are used when writing a poem but the kenning is one that definitely makes reading more interesting and enjoyable in many ways!

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