An acrostic poem is one written in cryptographic form. A word is spelled out with the first letter of each line. It is often the theme of the poem, or a person to whom the poem is dedicated.
The word “acrostic” comes from the Greek words “aeros, ” meaning outermost and “stichos” meaning line of verse. Early acrostics were written as prophesies of the Erithrean Sibyl, which were written on leaves and arranged so that the initial letters of the leaves always formed a word. Yet another well-known acrostic dates back to Roman times, discovered at Cirencester in the southern part of England.
There were famous acrostic poets around the Middle Ages such as Giovanni Boccaccio and Geoffrey Chaucer. Interestingly, some Shakespeare scholars have found acrostic codes buried within a collection of Shakespeare’s poems and other works.
At one point, acrostic poems became all the rage and the Renaissance poet, Sir John Davies wrote an entire book of acrostic poems— Hymns of Astrea —all in honor of Queen Elizabeth I.
There are other examples of acrostics, such as the final chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There, which contains a poem entitled “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky”—an acrostic of the real Alice’s name: Alice Pleasance Liddell. Also, the Dutch national anthem is an acrostic! The first letters of the 15 stanza poem spell Willem Van Nassov, one of the hereditary titles of William of Orange, and uses the poem to introduce him to the Dutch people.
Try It: Acrostic Poetry
Acrostic poems are easy to write and they’re fun! Try your hand at writing an acrostic. It can be the subject of your choice. Don’t forget to list the letters that spell out your word or message down the side.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s coffee-infused poetry prompt. Here is a poem from Donna we enjoyed:
The doctor advised “no caffeine”
How I miss that dark, soul serving bean.
Stripped down to the wire,
Decaf doesn’t inspire
Like the black gold infused with sweet cream.
—by Donna Falcone
Photo by lisaclark. Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland