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March 15, 2004 by AK

Ouphante Fairie

I was only a few years older than Chatterton when I first read his most-published piece, the roundelay from Aella. It has one particularly thrilling line that I could do understand at once — the first of the following:

Ouphante fairie, lyghte youre fyres,

Heere mie boddie stylle schalle bee.

My first, wild guess was that ‘ouphante’ was an early form of ‘orphan’; then the fairie was a sweet protector of orphans and other unfortunates. Wrong, and laughably so. For all I know now, ‘ouphante’ is derived from ‘ouph’, elf. No expert on the good people am I, but elfin fairies cause me no trouble.

What caused me discomfort was ‘youre’ instead of ‘thy’; indeed, I have seen a version with ‘ouph and fairie’ in place of ‘ouphante’. (In the only Russian versified translation I know, it’s fei da gnomy.) Fine with me; but why did Chatterton also use ‘ouphant’ elsewhere in Aella, and in Battle of Hastings? He might have spotted ‘ouph and fairie’ in one of the genuine manuscripts he went through as a child, mistaken ‘ouph and’ for ‘ouphant’ and consistently used it later; but it does not explain the plural ‘youre’.

I don’t care about the ‘youre’/’thy’ thing anymore; having browsed through more Chatterton, I don’t think he was perfectly logical in choosing between the pronouns. My feeling is that ouphant(e) fairies are like angels of death:

As ouphant faieries, whan the moone sheenes bryghte,

In littel circles daunce upon the greene,

All living creatures flie far from their syghte,

Ne by the race of destinie be seen…

Perhaps Keats’ sore-sighing grot-dweller was one of that kind, too.


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