'Were' and 'hair' - do they rhyme in Bilbo's poem?

Geraden

New Member
I was interested in the discussion of the sound values of the words 'were' and 'hair'. I agree that dialect and accent has a bearing in whether these two words are a rhyming pair. Corey finds it hard to make them rhyme in American English, and suspects that they rhyme better in British English. I agree, but would go further. There are dialects of British English where they rhyme exactly. In Scouse, 'hair' is pronounced more or less like 'were' (Think Cilla Black). However the reverse is the case in some Midland accents. Like Tolkien, I was brought up in Birmingham, and often heard the word 'were' pronounced like 'wear' and 'hair'.

Tolkien himself was educated at King Edward's School (which I imagine did not favour a Brummie accent) and later at Oxford, so his own speech was that of an Oxford don. Bilbo however was a Shire hobbit, and the Shire is usually associated with the rural Midlands. At least in his early life in Birmingham Tolkien must have heard 'were' rhyming with 'hair', so it is entirely possible that he allowed Bilbo in his own accent to treat the two words as full rhymes.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
During class, Corey also talked about the rhyme being displaced, that "were" rhymed with "gossamer." Of course, that only happens with an American accent, so I don't really think it counts as part of the shape of the poem. I rather thought of the word "there," that comes right before "were" and pronounce "were" more like "there" if not completely rhyming with "hair." In any case, I don't agree that opening the vowels and eliminating the "r" like a Boston (USA) accent is the way to go. The "r" should still be pronounced.

Interesting about the accents. Is there a recording of Tolkien reading this poem? I'd like to hear how he pronounces this verse. On YouTube all that I can find are readings in a variety of American accents. Where are the British?
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
Gossamer and were rhyme in certain dialects. I can msybe see a West Country speaker possibly making them rhyme (think Hagrid - regionally, not his specific dielectric though). Or certain areas of Northern Ireland. Others apply. Having lived in the Midlams for over fifteen years though I can’t think of anyone who’d make them rhyme there. Birmingham is possible. Depends on the speaker. But I’m talking strong specific regional accents. Definitely not in RP and not the most widespread pronunciation. Where and hair obviously do. But I think almost anyone I can think of pronounces where and were quite differently. Ergo, were and hair rhyme would be rather uncommon as I said
 

Geraden

New Member
My mother who lived in Birmingham all her life definitely preonouced 'were' like 'hair' . I think 'where' always retained its aspirate so it was not an exact homophone of 'were' though they were close rhymes. I had to school myself to stop pronouncing 'were' like 'hair'.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
In a standard midwest American accent, 'were' rhymes with 'fur' and 'hair' rhymes with 'stair' (both with 'r' pronounced), so the two do not rhyme at all.

There are some Southern US accents where 'were' and 'hair' rhyme. They might be pronounced something like 'way-uh' and 'hay-uh'. I do not recall hearing British accents where they are an exact rhyme (though I am sure there might well be some). I think in RP the 'r' tends to get swallowed. More so, perhaps, in 'were' (which might sound something like 'waa') than in 'hair' (which might sound something like the Southern US 'hay-uh', but with the terminal 'uh' sound much less pronounced).

How do others think these two words sound in RP?
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
During class, Corey also talked about the rhyme being displaced, that "were" rhymed with "gossamer." Of course, that only happens with an American accent, so I don't really think it counts as part of the shape of the poem. I rather thought of the word "there," that comes right before "were" and pronounce "were" more like "there" if not completely rhyming with "hair." In any case, I don't agree that opening the vowels and eliminating the "r" like a Boston (USA) accent is the way to go. The "r" should still be pronounced.

Interesting about the accents. Is there a recording of Tolkien reading this poem? I'd like to hear how he pronounces this verse. On YouTube all that I can find are readings in a variety of American accents. Where are the British?
Hi Rachel,

I don't think there is a recording of JRRT reading this poem. However, there is a recording of JRRT reading 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil' here: . Tolkien Reading Tom Bombadil’s poem

In stanza 3 you can hear how he pronounces 'hair', and in stanza 10, how he pronounces 'were'. To my ear, they are not an exact rhyme, but much closer than in a common American accent.
 

Ragnelle

Member
In the recording "Poems and Songs of Middle Earth" this is one of the songs, and to mine (admittedly non-native) ear, "were" and "hair" rhymes just fine there.

I was not taught any particular accent when I learned English, though closer to a British English than American (and British spelling), and I have never though those words was such a bad rhyme. But my pronunciation is far from perfect.
 
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