In poetry, a spondee is a metrical foot consisting of two long syllables, as determined by syllable weight in classical meters, or two stressed syllables, as determined by stress in modern meters. This makes it unique in English verse as all other feet (excepting molossus, which has three stressed syllables, and dispondee, which has four stressed syllables) contain at least one unstressed syllable. The word comes from the Greek σπονδή, spondē, "libation".
It is unrealistic to construct a whole, serious poem with spondees, except in languages like Chinese - consequently, spondees mainly occur as variants within an anapaestic structure. The spondee is a very important poetic device that poets can use to emphasize meaning within their writing style.
For example (from G. K. Chesterton, "Lepanto"):
- White founts falling in the courts of the sun
- And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
The following is a possible analysis, and shows the role of the spondee.
- The basic template for both lines is anapaestic tetrameter: four feet, each consisting of two short syllables then a long syllable (duh-duh-DAH, duh-duh-DAH, duh-duh-DAH, duh-duh-DAH). It is then heavily modified:
- The second, third and fourth feet in the second line each have three instead of two short syllables (duh-duh-duh-DAH).
- The first anapaest in the first line is replaced with a spondee ("White founts," DAH-DAH)
- The second anapaest in the first line is replaced with a trochee (DAH-duh).
A simpler version of the first line might be:
- There are white fountains falling in the courts of the sun .
Two short syllables are added at the beginning, and "founts" is lengthened to "fountains." These extra syllables add "filler," so that when the poem is read stress no longer naturally falls on the syllable "fount" (or, does so to a lesser degree). As a result there are unstressed syllables just before the "fall," so that naturally becomes an anapaest ("fountains fall-," duh-duh-DAH), and the "ing" slips into the following anapaest. Chesterton's version changes all this; it is less intuitive to write and has a more unusual sound. The spondee effects this.
Tennyson often made use of spondaic and pyrrhic substitutions in his work. Here are some examples:
- This is my son, mine own Telemachus
- To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,
- Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
- This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
- A rugged people, and through soft degrees
- Subdue them to the useful and the good.
- -from "Ulysses"
Spondees above are "Well-loved," "slow pru-," and "make mild."
- Be near me when my light is low,
- When the blood creeps and the nerves prick
- And tingle; and the heart is sick,
- And all the wheels of Being slow.
- -from "In Memoriam"
- Be near me when my light is low,
There are two spondees in this excerpt: "blood creeps," and "nerves prick."
Another example of a poem using spondee is Gerard Manley Hopkins' Pied Beauty. He marks the 6th line in this way to indicate the spondee: "And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim." The poem also ends with the short spondee line "Praise Him."
Other articles related to "spondee, spondees":
... Troiae qui primus ab oris (dactyl, dactyl, spondee, spondee, dactyl, spondee) As in Greek, lines were arranged such that the metrically long syllables—those occurring ... of the Latin verse form can be seen in a comparative analysis of the use of spondees in Ennius' time vs ... be frowned upon, as well as the use of a high proportion of spondees in both of the first two feet ...