Poetry Guide: Acrostic
An acrostic (from the late Greek akróstichon, from ákros, "extreme", and stíchos, "verse") is a poem or other text written in an alphabetic script, in which the first letter, syllable or word of each verse, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out another message.
Acrostics may simply spell out the letters of the alphabet in order; these acrostics occur in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and in certain of the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible. Two notable acrostic Psalms are the long Psalm 119, which typically is printed in subsections named after the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each of which is featured in that section; and Psalm 145 (commonly referred to as "Ashrei"), which is recited three times a day in the Jewish services. Or, the acrostic may spell out a name or some other message, such as the acrostic contained in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, where the letters of the acrostic are embellished with ornate capital letters. Or, the acrostic may be used as a form of steganography, seeking to conceal the message rather than to proclaim it.
Here is an example in English, an Edgar Allan Poe poem titled simply An Acrostic:
- Elizabeth it is in vain you say
- "Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
- In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
- Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
- Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
- Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
- Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
- To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
- His folly — pride — and passion — for he died.