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?

closed as not constructive by simchona, MetaEd, JSBձոգչ, Mitch, Kit Z. Fox Jul 25 '12 at 18:05

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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 25 '12 at 18:08

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.

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    Exactly: here is a dictionary that shows they didn't rhyme in 1833. – Peter Shor Jul 25 '12 at 17:37

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