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The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘kenning’ as “One of the periphrastic expressions used instead of the simple name of a thing, characteristic of old Teutonic and especially Old Norse poetry”

There are three parts to the basic structure of a kenning:

base word – this stands in for the referent

determinant – relates to the sphere of the referent, helping us understand the base word in terms of the referent

referent – the object or person the kenning refers to

Base Word Determinant Referent
gjálfr-marr sea ship

Although most Old English kennings are relatively simple, conforming to the structure shown above, Old Norse kennings in Skaldic Verse can become very complicated indeed. This is because they often make elliptical references to Norse mythology. Indeed, Snorri Sturluson included the Gylfaginning in his Edda, because one cannot understand the kennings without a knowledge of the mythological tales.

In this tenth-century dróttkvætt stanza the Norwegian skald Eyvind Finnson skáldaspillir contrasts the generosity of Haakon the Good with the greed of his successor, Harald Gråfell:

Bárum, Ullr, of alla,
ímunlauks, á hauka
fjöllum Fýrisvalla
fræ Hákonar ævi;

nú hefr fólkstríðir Fróða
fáglýjaðra þýja
meldr í móður holdi
mellu dolgs of folginn

The straightforward translation of this results in this rather cryptic statement:

“Ullr of war-leek! We carried the seed of Fýrisvellir on the mountains of hawks during all of Hakon’s life; now the enemy of the people has hidden the flour of Fróði’s hapless slaves in the flesh of the mother of the enemy of the giantess.”

When we ‘decode’ the kennings we arrive at:

“O warrior, we carried gold on our arms during all of Hakon’s life; now the enemy of the people has hidden gold in the earth.”

Ullr is the name of a god. By convention, a male god coupled with a weapon, or battle term denotes a warrior.

ímun-laukr ‘war-leek’ = “sword”, so Ullr ímunlauks ‘god of sword’ means warrior

Hauka Fjöll ‘mountains of hawks’ refers to arms. (A reference to Falconry when the bird perches on the arm)

Fýrisvalla fræ ‘seed of Fýrisvellir’ means gold. This refers to the legend retold in Skáldskaparmál and Hrólf Kraki’s saga when King Hrofl and his men scattered gold on the plains (vellir) of the river Fýri to delay their pursuers

Fróða fáglýjaðra þýja meldr ‘flour of Fróði’s hapless slaves’ refers to the Grottasöng legend where Fróði’s slaves work a mill. The ‘flour’ of the mill is gold

móður hold mellu dolgs ‘flesh of mother of enemy of giantess’ refers to the earth (Jörd) here depicted at a goddess who was the mother of Thor – the enemy of the giants (Jotuns).