, 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 somewhat unique in English verse as most other feet contain at least one unstressed syllable.
It is unrealistic to construct a whole, serious poem with spondees. Consequently, spondees mainly occur as variants within, say, an anapaestic structure.
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;
This whole verse is rather unusual in structure, making it a somewhat difficult example. 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 scepter and the isle,
- Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
- This labor, 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," "This la-," "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
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 thusly to indicate the spondee: "And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim." The poem also ends with the short spondee line "Praise Him."