What does dipp'st mean in John Keats' poem?
August 8, 2022 11:02 AM   Subscribe

In John Keats poem Hadst thou liv’d in days of old there is a line that goes: Thou dipp’st them in the taintless wave. Does anyone know what dipp'st means in this context as I cannot seem to find the meaning on Google.
posted by RearWindow to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by DarlingBri at 11:04 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]

"you dip them".

Thou is an older, familiar form of singular "you".

you think = thou thinkest or thou think'st
you see = thou seest
you drink = thou drinkest or thou drink'st
you dip = thou dippest or thou dipp'st

The contraction form with an apostrophe (dipp'st rather than dippest) is to make the word into one syllable, for the sake of the metre (rhythm) of the poetic line.

"Them"= "those beauties", above, which are usually covered, even from the eyes of the Cupids ("little Loves") that fly around. "Those beauties" = breasts, "like twin water-lilies."

So basically, she has really beautiful breasts that are usually covered, except when she's bathing in the unpolluted waves.

The phrasing in this poem is very dense and quite obscure. Go slowly and steadily as you read.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:17 AM on August 8 [28 favorites]


Just "dip" -- it's a present-tense verb, and Pallas Athena's analysis of the bigger picture is correct.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:34 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]

It's easy to miss because it has become a stereotypical "ye olde English" word, but right in the first line he uses the same pronoun and conjugation of the verb "to have":

"Hadst thou liv'd in days of old"
posted by muddgirl at 11:45 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

Add too, the sweetness
Of thy honied voice; the neatness
Of thine ankle lightly turn’d
With those beauties, scarce discern’d,
Kept with such sweet privacy,
That they seldom meet the eye
Of the little loves that fly
Round about with eager pry.
Saving when, with freshening lave,
Thou dipp’st them in the taintless wave;
Like twin water lillies, born
In the coolness of the morn.

Add on the sweetness
Of your honey-like voice, the neatness
Of your shapely ankles
With those beauties (feet... or breasts!), barely seen,
Kept in such sweet privacy
That they are seldom seen by
All the little loves (describing human suitors as little Cupid angels that "fly")
that surround you with eager prying eyes.
Except when, wanting a refreshing bath,
You dip them in the perfect sea,
Your (feet? breasts?) are like a pair of water lilies
Blooming on a cool morning.

I agree that the poem politely makes it sound like he could be talking about feet but "beauties" actually refers to breasts.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:36 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]

> right in the first line he uses the same pronoun and conjugation of the verb "to have": "Hadst thou liv'd in days of old"
Not precisely the same conjugation. “Dippest”/“dipp’st” is second-person present tense of “to dip”, as nebulawindphone points out. “Hadst” is second-person past tense of “have”. Second-person present of “have” would be “hast”.
posted by Syllepsis at 3:16 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]

It’s easier if you know a smidgen of German: du is second person singular much like “thou” in archaic English, and it conjugates present tense with -st. Plenty of cognates with Early Modern English: du bringst, thou bringest, du hast, thou hast, du trinkst , thou drinkest.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:47 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]

(Dang, just came in to drop the German on y'all, and here I find The R. Biscuit already explaining it. Ausgeseichnet!)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:04 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]

Die Freude war ganz meinerseits.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:55 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]

« Older Sectional to fit into a cut off room corner   |   Is a hard rain gonna fall? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments