Alliteration is the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. In poetry and prose, the use, within a line or phrase, of words beginning with the same sound, as in Two tired toads trotting to Tewkesbury. It was a common device in Old English literature, and its use survives in many traditional phrases, such as dead as a doornail and pretty as a picture. Alliteration is used in modern poetry more sparingly than in Old English, as an emphasis for certain imagery or words. While alliteration focuses on repetition of consonants, assonance is repetition upon vowel sounds.
Alliteration was a basic principle of early Germanic poetry, and provides the structure of verse in Old English, Old Saxon, Old High and Low German, and Old Norse, being used without rhyme. The scheme was to divide each line into two, with a caesura between. Each line would have three or four stressed syllables beginning with the same consonant; two of these would be in the first half of the line; and one or two in the second. Alliteration gradually began to disappear as the basic structure for poetry when rhyme was introduced from Latin hymns. In Icelandic poetry, however, it remains a basic poetic principle.
Examples of alliteration are, the line ofer brade brimu, Brytene sohtan (over the broad sea, they sought the Britons) contains the consonantal combination br three times. Such alliterating words, however, were not always easy to create, and the poet frequently found himself searching for synonyms which would alliterate with the words he wished to use in a line of poetry. Eventually, the poets forced to create their own synonyms. Kennings is a figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry.
The poet, of Anglo-Saxon times relied to a great extent on the metaphor to describe everyday objects in a colorful language. The type of metaphor that was used, known as the kenning, was a compound composed of two words which became the formula for a specific object. This kenning came to be an interesting literary technique that would be used by ancient Anglo-Saxon poets for many centuries. Kennings were not, however, originated as an end in themselves, but were developed to be used as synonyms in poetic verse.
The first kennings used by the poets were comparatively simple in structure, they expressed a single idea or thought and were compounds usually composed of two words. Examples of these simple kennings, are merehengest (horse of the sea, ship), s? olarbor? (sun-table, the sky), and hilden? dre (battle-serpent, arrow). Kennings such as these soon became so popular that about one-third of the text of Beowulf is composed of them. Such frequent use, however, caused some kennings to become cliches, such as ring-giver for every prince.
This caused the very idea of kennings to begin to stagnate, and many poets empted to find another way to use this colorful metaphor. A new way for the kenning was developed by the Norse court-poets who performed before nobility. The ornate, courtly language used in the courts led the poet to bring the kenning to a new level of sophistication. The type of phrase that resulted, to be called a compound kenning, might be described as a kenning within a kenning. For example, if ship was a horse of the sea and the sea was the whale-road, then a ship became a horse of the whale-road. Hayden Roberts Block 1