Kennings, the metaphors of meaning in Old English: hronrad and whale roads

Posted by Critten 17/01/2019 0 Comment(s)

Kennings, the metaphors of meaning in Old English: Hronrad and Whale-Roads.



There was a lovely article in the New York Times' Magazine on Old English Kennings by Josephine Livingstone.


An excerpt: "The key, for me, was the kenning. Kennings are essentially portmanteaus, Old English words made of two nouns that have been mashed together to create a new one. At the bar that night with Roberta, I got it immediately: These kennings were metaphors of circumlocution, a way to talk around the thing you want to represent. For example, hron means “whale.” Rad means “a road,” or “a path.” Put them together, she said, and you get hronrad, or “whale-road,” which means “the sea.” The ocean is not an empty space, hronrad says — it belongs to the whale. Human beings crisscross it on our adventures, but when we do it, we are trespassing on a very large mystery."


Livingstone’s article is so engaging because it makes us think about English language and the poetry of writing from a different perspective.


"A kenning is like a Rothko painting. It doesn’t make sense at first, but then it unfurls a beauty born of texture and contrast." 


"We who speak contemporary English are so reliant on word order that we are no longer as able as our forebears to create lyrical, associative, figurative meaning in poetry. We just can’t do the same things with our vocabulary. Old English speakers can treat metaphor as an occasion to innovate; Modern English simply tries to describe."



Read the full article: Letter of Recommendation: Old English; Jan. 4, 2019.

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