I agree about the difference you identify between kennings and
chevilles, and I agree strongly that they should not be confused one for
the other. I think, while keeping the distinction, that they might be
related to each other, and to other phenomena in traditional cultures
(which typically treat texts, in some sense, orally) having to do with
"regular phrases"--I'm avoiding "formula"; but there I've said it!
So my thought was that both kennings and chevilles function as regular
phrases, though I'm glad to have the distinction emphasized. I wonder if
one could say that the kenning with its riddling specificity is the
polar opposite of the cheville that seems generous in being an "empty
figure"? In oral-formulaic studies whether the specific meaning of a
formula is prominent, or whether its repetition indicates that it is
"merely" ornamental--that distinction seems to reproduce the polar
opposition I'm suggesting here. So the relation between kennings and
chevilles is that they are regular phrases used for traditional
functions in early texts, and their functions may be distinct indeed
even while they share their status as markers of traditional literature.
Dennis King wrote:
> Tom Walsh wrote:
>> These often resemble kennings, to my mind.
> How so? Kennings can certainly be hackneyed -- and some kennings
> may also be used as chevilles -- but in origin a kenning is a kind
> of riddle, so it's actual content is something to focus the mind
> on. When Cú Chulainn tells Emer that he spent the night "i tig
> fir adgair búar maige Tethrai" (in the house of a man who tends
> the cattle of the plain of Tethra), "mag Tethrai" is a kenning for
> the sea, and "búar Tethrai" is one for fish. But Melia says that
> the function of chevilles is "musical and metrical" as they are
> "carrying little information":
> "Classical Irish poetry seems to be connotative and designed
> for hearing for the most part, rather than denotative and
> designed for seeing. In such a context, in which the listener
> does not, indeed, cannot, go back to re-examine a line, but
> must cope with and understand (in all senses of the word)
> a performance of a poem, the musical and metrical effects
> provided by chevilles, which by definition are carrying little
> information, may be primary; the chevilles may be more than
> a set of "empty figures" used by necessity to fill out lines
> of a verse form too complex for its practitioners, but rather
> one of the essential means by which that poetry achieved its
> effects in its listeners."
>> Daniel F. Melia. "Empty Figures" in Irish Sylllabic Poetry."
>> Philological Quarterly 56 (1977) 285-300.
> Thanks very much for that! I hadn't read it before.