Sixteen Secrets of Keeping Quiet


“Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.”

Pablo Neruda

This week, my one-year-old grandson said a couple of new words: “puh” (up) and “tep” (step). I keep encouraging him to say, “Mimi,” which is my grandmotherly name, but he’s said it only once, and once seems to be enough for him at the moment. He talks in full sentences, but for the most part, his words are his own language.

I enjoy language and words. I guess that’s no surprise. Sometimes when I’m reading or writing, a random word stands out from the rest, and my mind begins turning it over and around and inside out. Occasionally it’s an unusual word, but most often it’s a word I use all the time.

That happened recently when I read the title of a Pablo Neruda poem, “Keeping Quiet.” It’s a common phrase. I’ve used it myself, but I had never thought of how interesting it is to use the word keep that way. What does it mean to keep quiet? Ever since, I’ve been noticing different ways we use keep. “Keep a secret,” “keep at it,” “keep track of it,” “keep up with it,” “keep on keeping on,” and “playing for keeps” (which, I discovered, came from the game of marbles). I also knew, from writing fantasy novels, that a keep is the strong tower in the center of a medieval castle. A dungeon, too, was often called a keep.

Enter the dictionary. Keep can be traced back to Old English cepen, which means “to observe,” and cepen possibly entered English from the Old Norse kopa, which means “to stare.” That struck me as strange, because that definition didn’t seem to fit keep – until I thought of a keeper, a person who guards or watches and is responsible for taking care of something. So:

Keeping the traditions means observing them, protecting them.

Keeping a secret means we watch over it. We are responsible for it.

Keeping the peace means we don’t get complacent but stay alert to what brings peace and hold onto it.

Keeping someone company means we pay attention to them.

Keep your word means attend to what you promise and holding yourself to it.

Keep off the grass means observe it and take care not to trample it.

Synonyms for keep are maintain, stay with, persist, sustain, remain in, preserve, embrace, support, tend, guard, defend, comply with, respect, celebrate, support, nurture, nourish.

Now here’s the fun part (for me). With those synonyms in mind, return to the words that started all this pondering in the first place: “keeping quiet.” What does keep quiet mean? Well, we just found sixteen secrets of keeping quiet:

Maintain quiet. Stay with it. Persist in it. Sustain it. Remain in it.

Preserve quiet. Embrace it. Support it. Tend it. Guard it. Defend it.

Respect quiet. Celebrate it. Support it. Nurture it. Nourish it.

At this link you can listen to Sylvia Boorstein read Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet.”

“Now you keep quiet, and I will go.”

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.


Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy