Parataxis: Kennings

Kelly Maudslien. English 111, Cyberspace, VR, and Critical Theory, 1998

The kenning is one example of a formula in Old English poetry that helps the listener visualize the spoken text. A kenning is a phrase used in place of a simple word. It consists of two words related to the object but not necessarily to each other. Thus world-candle stands for sun, gold-friend for lord, whale-road for sea, and fire-lizard for dragon. A more metaphorical phrase such as "the candle of the world" would not hold up under Old English metrical standards. The kenning serves to slow down speech that would otherwise be too fleeting and to create a powerful, dense image. In this way a kenning might serve like a large picture on a web page that takes a long time to appear onscreen.

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