A spondee is a unit of meter. It is composed of two stressed, or accented, syllables.

Facts About Spondees

  • Spondees are rarely used, therefore when they are used, they often emphasize specific words or moments in the poem.
  • They add a feeling of expectancy to the verse as if something is about to happen that the poet is leading up to.
  • The spondee is the opposite of a pyrrhic foot (a unit of meter with two unstressed syllables). It is even harder to use consistently.
  • Sometimes used to highlight moments of tension in a poem.

Spondee Example #1

Break, Break, Break by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The beginning of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Break, Break, Break’ is a great example of a poem that uses spondees on occasion. It’s incredibly hard to consistently use this unit of meter and, as noted above, it’s most effective when used sparingly. Here is the first stanza of the poem:

Break, break, break,

         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

         The thoughts that arise in me.

The first two syllables of the stanza are stressed, “Break, break,” as is the third. The final two syllables of the second line are also stressed: “O Sea!” Later in the poem, the poet repeats these same lines, providing readers with another moment to analyze how effective spondees can be.

Spondee Example #2

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

‘Pied Beauty’ is another interesting example of how stressed syllables can be used together to create emphasis. Consider these lines from the second stanza:

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.

Here, the poet uses “swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.” All of these syllables are stressed, creating an interesting and memorable line of verse. When a poet uses so many stressed syllables in a row, the reader can’t help but feel that they’re building up to something important.

Other Spondaic Poems to Explore