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I have a question regarding rhymes in two English poems by William Blake.

Here is the first poem, "The Ecchoing Green":

The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring.
The sky-lark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells’ cheerful sound.
While our sports shall be seen
On the Ecchoing Green.
...

Notice the scheme AABB. One thing strikes me here: "bush" does not rhyme with "thrush"... Although I may be mistaken.

Likewise, in another poem by Blake, "On Another's Sorrow", I found this:

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
...

and "woe" does not rhyme with "too"

Can someone please explain the reason why the scheme seems inconsistent?

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    The question I'd ask is "How would Blake have pronounced these words?"
    – mikado
    Oct 22, 2021 at 17:38
  • @mikado That's an interesting point..
    – balteo
    Oct 22, 2021 at 18:49
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    The words thrush and bush rhymed historically and still rhyme in northern England. I can't find any Elizabethan rhymes with those two endings, but with the same vowels, John Donne wrote "Now swome a prison in a prison put, And now this Soule in double walls was shut," I believe Blake reserved the right to rhyme any words that Shakespeare would have rhymed (probably by mangling the pronunciation).
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 22, 2021 at 19:37
  • @PeterShor That's very interesting and relevant indeed. Your comment could be added as a reply actually. Thanks.
    – balteo
    Oct 22, 2021 at 20:56
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    @balteo: it would be a great answer if I could find a reference for it. Right now, the only evidence I have for Blake considering he had the right to use any rhyme Shakespeare would have accepted is circumstantial evidence (thrush and bush rhyming I do have evidence for).
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 22, 2021 at 21:51

1 Answer 1

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Blake, like many English poets of the past and present, didn't actually restrict himself in all cases to exact rhymes. You can also find rhymes like "shade" and "spread", "dark" and "work", "child" and "fill'd", "face" and "dress", "clime" and "divine", "lambs" and "hands", "lamb" and "name", "blessing" and "ceasing", "grow" and "plow", "town" and "own".

In the case of "woe" and "too", it's pretty clear that this was simply being used as a non-exact rhyme.

"Thrush" and "bush" are less obvious, because there are in fact accents where these words rhyme. The difference in pronunciation is due to the "FOOT–STRUT split" which was a divergent development of some cases of the Middle English vowel /u/. I can't say whether Blake may have not had this split in his accent, or whether it was simply a license he allowed himself to use: either is possible in theory.

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