Kennings are compound expressions in Old Norse poetry with metaphorical meaning.
Then said Ægir:In how many ways are the terms of skaldship variously phrased, or how many are the essential elements of the skaldic art?Then Bragi answered:The elements into which all poesy is divided are two.Ægir asked:What two?Bragi said:Metaphor and metre.What manner of metaphor is used for skaldic writing?Three are the types of skaldic metaphor.Which?Thus: [first], calling everything by its name; the second type is that which is called 'substitution;' the third type of metaphor is that which is called 'periphrasis,' and this type is employed in such manner: Suppose I take Odin, or Thor, or Týr, or any of the Æsir or Elves; and to any of them whom I mention, I add the name of a property of some other of the Æsir, or I record certain works of his. Thereupon he becomes owner of the name, and not the one whose name was applied to him: just as when we speak of Victory-Týr, or Týr of the Hanged, or Týr of Cargoes: that then becomes Odin's name: and we call these periphrastic names. So also with the title Týr of the Wain.
Snorri then lists a great many poetic periphrases, although not all are actually used in poems and may be of his own invention. Some concern the gods, others relate to war and weapons, and yet others to everyday objects:
|Poesy||Kvasir's Gore; Ship of the Dwarves; Dwarves' Mead; Mead of the Æsir; Giants' Father-Ransom; Liquor of Óðrerir and of Boðn and of Són, and Fullness of these; Liquor of Hnitbjörg; Booty and Find and Gift of Odin.|
|Heaven||Skull of Ymir, and hence, Giant's Skull; Task or Burden of the Dwarves, or Helm of Vestri and Austri, Suðri, or Norðri; Land of the Sun, of the Moon, and of the Stars of Heaven, of the Wains and the Winds; Helm, or House, of the Air and the Earth and the Sun.|
|Earth||Flesh of Ymir; Mother of Thor; Daughter of Ónarr; Odin's Bride; Co-Wife of Frigg and Rindr and Gunnlöd; Mother-in-law of Sif; Floor and Bottom of the Storm-Hall; Sea of Beasts; Daughter of Night; Sister of Auðr and of Day.|
|Sea||Ymir's Blood; Visitor of the Gods; Husband of Rán; Father of Ægir's Daughters; Land of Rán and of Ægir's Daughters, of Ships and of ships' names, of the Keel, of Beaks, of Planks and Seams, of Fishes, of Ice; Way and Road of Sea-Kings; Encircler of Islands; House of Sands and of Kelp and of Reefs; Land of Fishing-gear, of Sea-Fowls, and of Fair Wind; Road of fishes; Sölsi's Seat; The Drink of Whales; Gylfi's Land; Gull's Wake.|
|Sun||Daughter of Mundilfari; Sister of the Moon; Wife of Glenr; Fire of Heaven and of the Air; Elf-beam (see Alfröðull); Dvalinn's Playmate and Deceiver of Dvalinn.|
|Wind||Son of Fornjótr; Brother of the Sea and of Fire; Scathe or Ruin or Hound or Wolf of the Wood or of the Sail or of the Rigging.|
|Air||Yawning Void and Middle World, Bird-Abode, Wind-Abode.|
|Fire||Brother of the Wind and the Sea, Ruin and Destruction of Wood and of Houses, Hálfr's Bane, Sun of Houses.|
|Winter||Son of Vindsvalr, Destruction of Serpents, Tempest Season.|
|Summer||Son of Svásudr and Comfort of Serpents, and Growth of Men.|
|Gold||Ægir's Fire; Needles of Glasir; Hair of Sif; Snood of Fulla; Freyja's Tears; Talk and Voice and Word of Giants; Draupnir's Drop and Rain or Shower of Draupnir, or of Freyja's Eyes; Otter's Ransom; Forced Payment of the Æsir; Seed of Fýris-Plain; Cairn-Roof of Hölgi; Fire of all Waters and of the Hand; Stone and Reef or Gleam of the Hand; Fródi's Meal; Kraki's Seed; Fire of the Eel's Stream-Road; Amber of the Sea.|
|Silver||Snow, or Ice, or Hoar-Frost.|
|Battle||Storm of Weapons or of Sheltering Shields, or of Odin or the Valkyrs, or of Host-Kings; Din and Clashing; Storm or Snow-Shower of the Hjadnings; Storm of Vidrir; The Iron Game.|
|Sword||Odin's Fire; Fire of the Helm; Ice of the Rim; Wand of Battle.|
|Axe||Troll-Woman of Sheltering Weapons|
|Arrows||Hail of the Bow or Bowstring, or of the Shelters, or of Battle.|
|Shield||Sun, or Moon, or Leaf, or Sheen, or Garth, of the Ship; Ship of Ullr; Hrungnir's Feet; Tents of Hlökk; Ródi's Roof; Wall of Hildr or Wheel of Hildr; Ring-Earth; Land of Weapons.|
|Ship||Horse or Deer or Snowshoe of the Sea-King, or of Ship's Rigging, or of Storm; Steed of the Billow; Geitir's Steed; Sveidi's Reindeer; Deer of the Sound; Steed of the Gunwale; Winterling of the Stream; Bear of the Stay.|
|Whale||Boar of Víðblindi.|
|Fire||Bane of Wood.|
|Wrist||Wolf's Joint (see Týr).|
For example, in a verse by the tenth-century Icelandic skald Eysteinn Valdason, "Þrúðr's Father" (i.e. Thor) hauled up the "sea-road's circler" (i.e. Jörmungandr) aboard his vessel:
- With glowing eyes Thrúdr's Father
Glared at the sea-road's circler,
Ere the fishes' watery dwelling
Flowed in, the boat confounding.
Some kennings are a compound of two other kennings, such Fish-road Steed for ship. More poetic circumlocutions can be found in the eddic poem Alvíssmál.
From Old Norse kenna, "know, perceive."
- Skáldskaparmál, 1 ff.