Spondee is an arrangement of two syllables in which both are stressed.
With spondaic feet, as well as dactylic or anapaestic, single words take their forms, rather than whole lines of text. Examples of words in which both syllables are stressed include “sunset,” “handshake” and “rainstorm.” Because the spondee is an irregular metrical foot, a poet might end a line of iambic pentameter, or any other type of meter, with a spondaic foot. They are not used to write entire lines. It is more often combined with other kinds of meter.
The spondee is the opposite of a pyrrhic foot. The latter has two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, mirroring the spondee’s two stressed followed by one stressed. The pyrrhic meter is even less common than spondaic.
It looks like this when the scansion is written out:
Examples of Spondee Meter in Poetry
Example #1 Break, Break, Break by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The beginning of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘Break, Break, Break’ is a great example. The second line reads: “On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!” The last two words, “O Sea!” Are a perfect example of how a spondee is used within a different pattern of meter, to place emphasis on two connecting syllables. In this case, and in many others, it is used to express increased emotion.
Example #2 Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount by Ben Johnson
This poem, which is made up of a number of single-syllable words, makes use of spondees throughout. The first line, in particular, is a great example of this kind of meter. Take a look at it here:
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears
There are several other examples throughout the poem, such as “droop herbs” and the repetition of “drop” in the last line.
Example #3 Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich
This poem is one example of how spondees can come into a free verse poem and give it a rhyme that was unexpected. The first line is a great example. Take a look at it below:
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
Other examples appear through the use of enjambment and the general arrangement of the words.
Why use Spondees?
A spondee is used rarely, therefore it appears in order to emphasize specific words or moments in the poem. It is thought that the meter adds a feeling of expectancy to the verse as if something is about to happen that the poet is leading up to.