Thursday, March 13, 2008


I am fortunate to be a teacher.

My subject chose me more than I chose it.


"Oh, that was my worst subject", or "Oh, that was my favorite subject", are two typical replies I get when I tell strangers that I'm an English teacher.

Should there be a comma after that last quote? Which is correct...quote or quotation?

This is the why others feel uneasy around English teachers.

Biology and science were my favorite subjects in high school.

But a substitute that I had for my 10th grade English class lit the light of my interest in poetry.

It was the poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Lord Byron and some poems by Wallace Stevens that did the trick.

I received A's in my high school chemistry class, not because of high test scores, but because of my humorous lab reports.

I learned to write in Chemistry class.

Thank you Mr. McDougal for letting me be zany and creative!

My Honors' courses at the University of Colorado introduced me to Plato, Camus, Baudlaire, Rimbaud, Kazantzakis...others.

From these authors I began reading the words of other Great writers and thinkers.

But this is not what I'm really writing about here.

My subject is kennings.

As an English teacher and poet, I teach and use

Figurative language in my own writing.

It is not always an easy thing to do.

My ninth-grade classes just finished reading Romeo and Juliet.

Yes, both movies were shown (I only show the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey; and the 1996 film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.)

I ambushed my students with armies of similes and metaphors.

There were only a few examples of personification and alliteration;

But battalions of puns and oxymorons!

But what are kennings?

Here are some definitions:

Poetic synonyms.

In literature, a kenning is a magic poetic phrase, a figure of speech, substituted for the usual name of a person or thing. Kennings work much the same way as epithets and verbal formulae, and were commonly inserted into Old English poetic lines.

A short metaphorical description of a thing used in place of the thing’s name.

A new noun or noun phrase replaces a more familiar noun.

The word kenning is derived from the Old Norse phrase kenna ett vid, which means “to express a thing in terms of another”, and is found throughout Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic literature.

Here are some examples:



raven harvest=corpse

valley trout=serpent

flame-farewelled and sleep of the sword=death

wave’s steed or sea steed=ship

sun of the houses=fire

battle icicle=sword

din of spears or spear crash=battle


wound-sea, slaughter-dew, or battle-sweat=blood

breaker of trees=wind

spear of the hair=comb

swan road=river


weather of weapons=war



winter garment=snow

seabird’s bath=sea

Here are few of my own banal kennings:


time machine=clock



If I come up with some others I’ll let you know.

I tried.

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