In a work by Thomas Watson (1555-1592), there is a line as follows: Her dainty forehead from the sun ykept.

Why does y appear in front of kept?

I have seen this odd use of y in other poems in the collection I am reading: Poetry of the English Renaissance, by Hebel and Hudson.

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    Have you looked up the old y- prefix for the past participle, cognate to German ge-? – tchrist Mar 23 '17 at 2:59
  • That's an interesting idea. The late 16th century seems a little late for middle english. I don't know well enough to say either way. – Mike Mar 23 '17 at 3:04
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    It was done by poets as a deliberate archaism. Numerous examples can be found in the OED, yclept the New English Dictionary. – tchrist Mar 23 '17 at 3:07
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    Oh, okay! I've seen yclept in here too. That has to be it, then. Thanks so much! – Mike Mar 23 '17 at 3:09

"Y" is supposedly a prefix used in "archaic past participle" -

See the dictionary definition here

That said, many poets used it when they needed an extra syllable to make the line scan and couldn't be bothered to change the wording. John Milton used it in the 17th Century:

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?

If you think it sounds mawkish and contrived, you might be right.

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