“I kenning through Astronomy Divine
The World’s bright Battlement, wherein I spy
A Golden Path my Pencil cannot line,
From that bright Throne unto my Threshold lie.” (Edward Taylor)
This is the beginning of the poem known as “Meditation 8” from the work of the colonial American and Puritan poet/pastor Edward Taylor (1642-1729). A full reading of the poem may be found here.
I was first introduced to this poem in an Early American Literature class I took in college on works spanning from the early 1600s to about 1800, mostly focusing on Puritan Literature of the time. This included such works as Mary Rowlandson’s account of her abduction by the Native Americans among others. Though I remember very little of our discussion on the poem above by Edward Taylor, I do remember one thing quite clearly. The professor teaching the class was rather fond of the archaic English in the poem and noted to the whole class that, having knowledge of German himself, the word “kenning” derived from the German word kennen, meaning “to know”.
When it comes to etymology, my favorite dictionary of all time is the Online Etymology Dictionary (OED).
It has an entry for a related word, “ken”, in English (on one of several meanings for that word), even though I didn’t know about this word until rather recently.
ken (v.) “to know,” Scottish dialect, from Old English cennan “make known, declare, acknowledge” (in late Old English also “to know”), originally “make to know,” causative of cunnan “to become acquainted with, to know” (see can (v.)). Cognate with German kennen, Danish kjende, Swedish känna. Related: Kenned; kenning.
The OED has an entry for ‘kenning’ which it links to as well. Merriam-Webster has this entry for “ken” in its noun form:
a : the range of vision
b : sight, view <’tis double death to drown in ken of shore — Shakespeare>
: the range of perception, understanding, or knowledge <abstract words that are beyond the ken of young children — Lois M. Rettie>
The opening lines of the poem mean then that Taylor knows through divine knowledge (I imagine “astronomy” here means sky watching and looking for heavenly signs) of a golden path that lies between some threshold and the bright throne (of God). Fortunately I stored this little nugget of knowledge away in my memory for the origin of this English word “kenning”.