The position of letters and the manner in which they are displayed give acrostics a puzzle-like quality. Some are written with the intention of a hidden message. That is, you might not know it is an acrostic poem until it sneaks up on you— and there it is! A hidden, unexpected word.
The hidden acrostic has been used since the Renaissance. In modern times, such acrostics have been written as an unflattering farewell to politicians, an R-rated epitaph on a tombstone, and as secret messages. Journalists have had their turn, too, sometimes writing a poetic hidden message within an article.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a well-known hidden acrostic poem, A Valentine:
For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Leda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that nestling lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines!- they hold a treasure
Divine- a talisman- an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure-
The words- the syllables! Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a sabre,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus
Three eloquent words oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets- as the name is a poet’s, too,
Its letters, although naturally lying
Like the knight Pinto- Mendez Ferdinando-
Still form a synonym for Truth- Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.
Puzzled? The trickery is compounded by not knowing the placement. Thus, the beauty of a hidden acrostic. Here’s a hint: Take the first letter from the first line, the second letter from the second line, the third letter from the third line and so on until you reach the end of the poem. You’ll have solved the mystery to Poe’s secret Valentine.
Did you solve the puzzle? Poe was rumored to have shared a literary courtship with Frances Sargent Osgood that eventually led to a series of scandals.
Try It: Hidden Acrostic Poem
Create your own hidden acrostic poem! Perhaps you’d like to make a popular culture reference, or a statement in the political arena, or maybe even a gesture towards the latest Nobel Prize winner for literature. Think of the secret message you’d like to convey, then write a poem around it. Once you’re done, be sure to share it with us in the comment box below. Feel free to give us a hint on how to solve your puzzle!
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a recent acrostic poem from Andrew we enjoyed:
Beginning of the day, the sky
Each morning beams it brightest
Always with a hope that there may be
Ulterior to purpose, life to fill
The trees and boughs with birds
Illuminating with their colour
Fen, village, wood and rock
Under that bright sky, each
Leaving their life in land and loch.
Photo by Nick Harris. 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