Create #18: Easy Poetry with Kennings

By Lynn Whitehead

Just like the Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen before us, we litter our language with kennings—it’s the way we have of using two words where one would do!

Who hasn’t described a dull accountant as a ‘bean counter’; or a ‘pen pusher’. We’ve enjoyed that amazing song in a musical as a ‘show stopper’ and decried a loud person as a ‘motor mouth’?

In the poem ‘Beowulf’ which dates to the first century, the combination of words is used to great descriptive effect. The author uses ‘whale-road’ to mean the sea; ‘sky-candle’ for the sun and how awfully evocative is ‘raven-harvest’ to mean a corpse?

To make a short poem – decide on an element of your garden or your village. It might be a stream, a path, a bush, a church, a barn, a road – anything.

Make a spidergram to collect up all the words that describe the many things your choice of element DOES, what it offers. What many purposes it serves, if you like!

Don’t try to write the right thing. Write everything you can think of however small.

You can select out the bits you like best later. Here’s mine – I live right opposite a church.

Then try to list those some of those qualities using the double-word kenning idea;

Comfort-house
Dog-path
Chime-tower
Cloud-pointer
Swift-home
Home-mark

Play around with different words to say what you’ve written on the spidergram (I started with ‘Bell-dinger’ but thought ‘Chime-tower’ sounded more poetic).

Once you’ve got five or six kennings in the list, move them around to see if that changes the emphasis of the poem. I switched ‘Home-mark’ to the end of my list because that’s the most important element to me and I liked the two different ‘homes’ together.

Activity Guide

Click the button to download this activity guide as a PDF. If you would like to receive one of our Activity Packs in the post, please email mdf@suffolkartlink.org.uk with your full name and address, including postcode.

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