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The following line occurs in Keats's poem 'Ode to a Nightingale':

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne

It seems to me that 'haply' means either, as Merriam-Webster says, 'by chance', or, possibly, the same as 'happily'. So, which is it?

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  • I don't think your pards questions should have been closed here, but it definitely would have stayed open on Literature.SE. You may consider posting your poetry questions there, as they may garner you deeper, more literature-oriented answers than here. Nov 20 at 23:14
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    Not in Cambridge Dictionary but I would say 'haply' means 'as it happens' or 'by happenstance'. So I go with M-W. The moon is neither happy nor unhappy but goes where nature/physics dictates. The chance being the timing of the event – on that night the moon was there. Nov 20 at 23:31
  • @Heartspring Thanks for the tip. I'll bear that in mind. Nov 21 at 0:47
  • @Weather Vane True, but irrelevant: Poets attribute emotions to anything and everything, and have no hesitation contradicting scientific facts (e.g., deathless birds). Nov 21 at 0:51

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Happy is used twice in the poem's first stanza, and happily in that position could also be read as an adjective describing the Queen's mood; this fits the mood of the poem. Had Keats meant hap'ly, however, he would have written the contraction, as he does with fam'd in the last stanza. Therefore the text supports that a double reading intended -- perhaps Keats is being a little fey himself?

Further, haply (i.e., "by chance") can be read as something more like "luckily," putting it very close to one meaning of happily.

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  • How do you get a read of luckily in this context? Nov 21 at 2:57
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From the OED:

haply adverb
Now archaic and poetic.
(a) Perhaps, possibly; maybe. Cf. mayhap adv. (b) By chance, by accident; (also) luckily, fortunately (contextually: unfortunately).
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

By the way, one of the citations, at 1703, uses an apostrophe: Hap’ly I stole unheeded to her Chamber. There it means not happily but luckily.

In any case, in Keats’s line, it seems haply means maybe:

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light...

And maybe the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
surrounded by her fairy stars;
But here there is no light...

As in, the moon and stars may be out, but it’s dark in the forest.

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