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The following five lines are from one of the most famous poems in history:

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.

"saw" and "Abora"? Was Abora pronounced ab-RAW back then?

Additional info: Mount Abora is purely imaginary. According to some rumors Wikipedia was thoughtful enough to include, Coleridge drew inspiration for parts of this poem from Milton's "Paradise Lost," in which said Mount is styled "Amara," with the main stress, humanely, on the first syllable (Milton always scans well; you can rely on him, all right):

...Nor where Abassin Kings thir issue Guard,
Mount Amara, though this by some suppos'd
True Paradise.

Thus, with Milton, at least, Amara is a three-syllable word, and is pronounced AM-uh-rah. The secondary stress (on the third syllable) can be used if one wishes to rhyme it.

More on the meter: If my (very tentative) assumption is correct, then the last line should consist of one dactylic foot followed by one anapestic foot. Like this:

SING ing of ... mount ab RA
(STRESS-no stress-no stress ... no stress-no-stress-STRESS)

I hasten to add that the first line (one of the participants suggested that the rhyming pattern is, in fact, ABCCA) is iambic throughout (i.e. every second syllable is stressed):

a dam sel with a dul ci mer

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    The pattern looks like ABCCA, with dulcimer rhyming with Abora. – Lawrence Nov 21 '15 at 6:37
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    Both words could conceivably end with the /ə/ sound. – Lawrence Nov 21 '15 at 6:46
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    There is such a thing as approximate rhyme, which makes me want to shoot myself when I read it. This doesn't make me want to shoot myself, so it must rhyme! – Matt Samuel Nov 21 '15 at 6:53
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    Oh, and certainly "saw" rhymes with "ah," which is a reasonable way to pronounce the last syllable of "Abora" in recitation. I pronounce the two sounds very differently and still it seems to rhyme. You may feel differently. – Matt Samuel Nov 21 '15 at 6:57
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    Far be it for me to edit, but I would recommend adding the pronunciation tag, and the title could refer to any poem written by Coleridge, be a little more specific if you don't want users reaching out for their "Off-topic" or "POB" vote. – Mari-Lou A Nov 21 '15 at 7:14
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  1. The meter of this part of the poem has irregularly alternating lines of four and three feet.

    A damsel with a dulcimer
    In a vision once I saw:
    It was an Abyssinian maid
    And on her dulcimer she played,
    Singing of Mount Abora.
    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,
    To such a deep delight 'twould win me,

There doesn't seem to be any real pattern to which feet have three syllables and which have two (except that the lines with four feet tend to be iambic), so if you accent the last syllable of Abora, the meter works.

  1. Coleridge uses several near-rhymes in this poem: river and ever; forced and burst; haunted and enchanted. This last pair has the same phonemes (/ɔː/and /ɑː/) as saw and Abora, in what I think is the most likely pronunciation of Abora with the stress on the last syllable. So whether or not he thought saw and Abora was a perfect rhyme, they were clearly close enough for Coleridge.
  • "river" and "ever" are almost certainly near rhymes, and "forced" and "burst." For "haunted" and "enchanted," it's less clear: I believe /hɑːnt/ actually existed as an archaic pronunciation of "haunt" for BrE, so possibly it did rhyme with "enchanted" (if Coleridge had the TRAP-BATH split). – sumelic Nov 21 '15 at 19:15
  • @sumelic: You're right: in Walker's pronouncing dictionary from 1828 (available online), the recommended pronunciation appears to be /hɑːnt/ and /sɔː/ for haunt and saw. So haunt may have rhymed with aunt and chant for Coleridge. (Or maybe not; I suspect haunt/gaunt were pronounced with both vowels in England at the time, since the American and current British aunt/haunt split probably came from some British accent.) – Peter Shor Nov 21 '15 at 21:38
  • One last comment: If you put the primary accent in Abora on the first syllable, but secondary stress on the third, I think the poem still scans and rhymes quite well. And this stress pattern matches Milton's Amara, so you could make a good case that this is the correct pronunciation. But on YouTube, you can find people reading it who accent the second syllable [cringe]. – Peter Shor Nov 26 '15 at 21:35

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