Spondee in Poetry: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Spondee
  • 0:41 Example: The Song of Hiawatha
  • 2:07 Example: ''Break,…
  • 3:00 Example: Paradise Lost
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will learn about the spondee, a rare metrical foot in poetry. Spondee is a metrical foot that has two stressed syllables. Poets generally mix spondee with other types of metrical feet. When spondee is used, the pace of the poem is changed.

Definition of Spondee

A spondee is a metrical foot that consists of two stressed syllables. A metrical foot is a beat in a line of poetry. A spondee is not as common as other forms of metrical feet, such as the iamb. It is rare to find a poem written entirely in spondee, but poets make use of the spondee in combination with other metrical feet.

One example of a word containing spondee is the word downtown. You'll notice that I put an equal amount of stress on both 'down' and 'town.' It is also interesting to note that spondee slows down the rhythm of the line when and where it is used. Let's look at three example poems that make use of the spondee.

The Song of Hiawatha

For our first example of spondee, let's take a look at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic, 'The Song of Hiawatha.' Here is the first stanza.

'By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
All the air was full of freshness,
All the earth was bright and joyous,
And before him, through the sunshine,
Westward toward the neighboring forest
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo
Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
Burning, singing in the sunshine.'

This poem is written in tetrameter, meaning that every line has four beats. As you read each line of the poem, you should find yourself tapping your foot four times. This poem is rare because every line has three feet of spondee and one of trochee. Remember that spondee is a foot, or beat, consisting of two stressed syllables. A trochee is a foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

Let's look at the first line of the poem. Every stressed beat will be capitalized to illustrate the spondee in the poem, and every unstressed beat will be in lower case. The line should read like this: 'BY THE SHORE OF GIT CHE GUM ee.' This poem is about Native Americans, and we can almost hear a drum beat because of Longfellow's use of spondee.

Break, Break, Break

Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote this second poem that we will examine, titled 'Break, Break, Break.' Let's look at the first stanza and particularly the first two lines.

'Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.'

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