german kennings

“[Germanic] poetry had developed another hierarchical poetic instrument: that is, kennings – descriptive, crystallized metaphors.”

Poetic themes and elements were very redundant, and they did not begin or end with similar sounds, so the usual poetic rhythm was hard to establish.

“For this poetry, which was only epic, they formed compound words to denote things whose names did not begin with the requisite letter. These kinds of formations are quite possible, and normal, in the Germanic languages. They realized that these compound words could very well be used as metaphors.”

sea = whale-road, fish-bath
ship = sea-stallion, sea-stag

“In Scandinavia [poets] carried them to their final stage: they created metaphors out of metaphors by using successive combinations… This is how an extremely complicated and obscure poetry evolved.”

“Here’s a fairly simple kenning: ‘the swan of the beer of the dead,’ which, when we first see it, we don’t know how to interpret. So, if we break it down, we see that ‘beer of the dead’ menas blood, and ‘swan of the blood’ means the bird of death, the raven… And in Scandinavia, whole poems were written like this and with increasing complexity.

pp.5-7

1 Responses to german kennings

  1. Alexander says:

    mmmm Borges

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