Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I find that when I read older poetry, the rhyme scheme is sometimes broken and I assume that the problem comes from changes in pronunciation over time. For example, Poe keeps up a pretty impressive rhyme scheme throughout the Raven but it breaks on the lines:

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!

prophet still, if bird or devil!

unless "evil" and "devil" rhyme. When reading that line aloud, should I try to adjust the pronunciation so that they rhyme? Or is it more important to pronounce words in a way that modern listeners will readily understand?

share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by simchona, MετάEd, JSBձոգչ, Mitch, KitFox Jul 25 '12 at 18:05

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

2  
This is an interesting question, but I'm not sure that it actually works for our format, since there is no correct answer. –  JSBձոգչ Jul 25 '12 at 16:50
1  
Devil is occasionally pronounced /'divəl/; there's an eye-dialect spelling "deevil" for it. But I don't think I've ever heard evil pronounced /'ɛvəl/ like the first two syllables of evolution. Of course this doesn't answer the question about "should"; but then nothing does. You're on your own with poetry. –  John Lawler Jul 25 '12 at 16:59
2  
Neither Basil Rathbone nor Christopher Walken bothers. The Raven is a comparatively recent work (1845) by an American author, so slavishly rhyming evil and devil was likely never Poe's intent. –  Gnawme Jul 25 '12 at 17:03
3  
I recommend that instead of changing your pronunciation, you change the offensive word. Exercise some of that poetic licence: "Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! / prophet still, if bird or weevil!" –  coleopterist Jul 25 '12 at 18:04
2  
I voted to close because I feel that "Should I?" will result in discussion rather than a specific answer. If this question were rephrased to something more like "When did evil and devil rhyme?" or "How can I find out how a word has changed in pronunciation over time?" then I would consider voting to reopen. –  KitFox Jul 25 '12 at 18:08
show 4 more comments

1 Answer 1

Poe's poetry isn't old enough to have these words pronounced the same (The Raven was published in 1845). It's a printer's rhyme; so, No, those words should be pronounced normally.

Whether poetry like Chaucer's should be pronounced in a Middle-English fashion, or Beowulf in Old English, is another question altogether.

share|improve this answer
3  
Exactly: here is a dictionary that shows they didn't rhyme in 1833. –  Peter Shor Jul 25 '12 at 17:37
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.