What Is Acrostic Poetry? Step-By-Step Guide and Examples

What is acrostic poetry? If you want to learn how to write an acrostic poem and how to write one, look at our key examples and guide below.

There are numerous types of poems, ranging from limericks to haikus and from sonnets to freeform poetry. One of the defining features of poetry is that your basic poem is organized into lines and stanzas instead of sentences and paragraphs. Poems are typically read from left to right and from top to bottom. Even though this is true with acrostic poems, they also contain a hidden meaning. You might find another message if you look at the letters that line up vertically.

An acrostic poem is a poem that takes advantage of the vertical nature of poetry to create a hidden word or phrase. For example, the first letter of each line could line up to spell a word that relates to the poem’s overall message. Review a few examples of acrostic poetry below, and learn how to write an acrostic poem for yourself. 

The Different Types of Acrostic Poetry

There are several different types of acrostic poetry. They include:

1. Examples of Conventional Acrostic Poems

In a conventional acrostic poem, the first letter of every word at the beginning of the line is used to spell out a word or phrase. Typically, the hidden word created by the vertical nature of the poem relates to the overall meaning. 

An Acrostic,” by Edgar Allan Poe

Here is one example of acrostic poetry. The poem is, fittingly, titled “An Acrostic,” and it was written by Edgar Allan Poe:

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 follie – pride – and passion – for he died.

If you look at the first letter of every line, you will see that it spells out “Elizabeth,” the poem’s subject. It is dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe’s cousin, Elizabeth Herring.

Even though an acrostic poem can certainly be dedicated to someone special, there are other matters in which a conventional acrostic poem can also be used.

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky,” by Lewis Carroll

Another example, written by Lewis Carroll, is titled “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky.”

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

If you look at the first letter of every line in this poem, you will see that it spells out Alice Pleasance Liddell, the main subject of the poem. This is the same Alice from Carroll’s landmark work, Alice in Wonderland. 

2. Examples of Double Acrostic Poems

Another type of acrostic poem is called a double acrostic poem. Even though the first letter of every line will line up to make a word, the last letter of every line also lines up to make a word. That makes writing this type of poem exceptionally challenging. As a result, it is also rarely seen in public poetry.

“Stroud,” by Paul Hansford

Even though there aren’t a lot of examples to work with, there is one very famous example, which is the title “Stroud.” Paul Hansford wrote it as a dedication to the town of Stroud, located in England. The poem goes like this:

Set among hills in the midst of five valleys,
This peaceful little market town we inhabit
Refuses (vociferously!) to be a conformer.
Once home of the cloth it gave its name to,
Uphill and down again its streets lead you.
Despite its faults it leaves us all charmed.

If you take a look at the first letter of every line in the last letter of every line, you will see that they both spell Stroud. The meaning is obvious, but it is still very challenging to generate a coherent poem using this method.

3. Examples of Mesostic Acrostic Poems

The next type of acrostic poem is called a mesostic poem. With this type of acrostic poem, a word or phrase can be found by looking in the middle of the poem. Of course, you can still read this type of poem as you would any other type of poem. But, then, if you look in the center of the text, you may find the hidden meaning. 

Sometimes, the poem’s lines are a bit offset from one another to make the letters line up. Because writing this type of poem can be challenging, it is not unusual for poets to bold, capitalize, or italicize certain letters to make the hidden meaning easier to spot.

For Wiliam McN., Who Studied With Ezra Pound,” by John Cage

If you want to look at how the lines might be offset to create a hidden message, here is an example by John Cage, titled “For William McN., who Studied With Ezra Pound.” 

To see how the letters line up to create a hidden message, look at the link above.

4. Examples of Abecedarian Acrostic Poems

Another type of acrostic poetry is where the first letter of every line runs sequentially through the alphabet. For example, the poem’s first line starts with the letter A (or the letter B if the poet is using A in the title). The poem’s last line should start with the letter Z. This is another fun challenge because you need to find words that start with challenging letters, such as Q and Z, and somehow make them relate to the rest of the poem. 

A Poem for S,” by Jessica Greenbaum

There are a handful of examples of good abecedarian poems, and one example is titled “A Poem for S,” by Jessica Greenbaum. The poem is as follows:

Because you used to leaf through the dictionary,
Casually, as someone might in a barber shop, and
Devotedly, as someone might in a sanctuary,
Each letter would still have your attention if not
For the responsibilities life has tightly fit, like
Gears around the cog of you, like so many petals

In this case, the poem’s title acts as “A,” and the poem proceeds through the other 25 letters of the alphabet. 

5. Examples of Telestich Acrostic Poems

We have already discussed acrostic poems that use the first letter of each line to form a hidden word or phrase and the first and last letters to form hidden words and phrases. In a telestich poem, only the last letter of every line lines up to form a hidden message. 

The Metamorphoses“, by Ovid

One of the most famous examples of a telestich poem comes from Ovid, a Roman poet who wrote The Metamorphoses. Here, if you look at the last letter of every line, you will find the hidden meaning:

non exacta satis rudibusque simillima signis.
Quae tamen ex illis aliquo pars umida suco
et terrena fuit, versa est in corporis usum;
quod solidum est flectique nequit, mutatur in ossa;
quae modo vena fuit, sub eodem nomine mansit;
inque brevi spatio superorum numine saxa

The last letter of every line spells “Somata,” a Greek word meaning “bodies.” So if you translate the poem, you will see it is about the human body. 

How To Write an Acrostic Poem

If you want to learn how to write an acrostic poem yourself, there are several steps you should follow. They include:

Step 1: Write the Subject Word Vertically

The first step is that you need to write your subject word vertically. If you are starting with the basic acrostic poem, write the word vertically on the left-hand side of the page. Putting the letters on the page is essential because you can visualize what the final poem will look like. Typically, the first letter of every line is capitalized, which will make it easier for you to see the final word. For example, if you want to write an acrostic poem about space, you should write “SPACE” vertically on the left-hand side of the page.

Step 2: Fill In The Lines Gradually

Next, you can start filling in the lines of the poem gradually. Of course, starting with the first line and working your way down the page is the most common tendency. On the other hand, this is not a requirement. If you find certain letters easier to work with than others, you may want to start with those.

A few additional tips to keep in mind include:

  • You do not need to end every line with end punctuation.
  • You can put a line break in the middle of the sentence.
  • The lines do not necessarily need to be the same length.

Following these tips should make it easier for you to fill in the rest of the poem. 

Step 3: Evoke Sensory Imagery

What Is Acrostic Poetry? Evoke Sensory Imagery
Try to use descriptive language that will reach out to the other senses

As you try to figure out how to communicate the right message to the reader, use terms that evoke sensory imagery. The five senses are sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. You are already focusing on sight because you have a hidden word going down the page vertically. Try to use descriptive language that will reach out to the other senses. This will get the reader’s mind going, and it may make it easier for them to identify the hidden message of the poem.

Step 4: Consider Using Similes and Metaphors

If you are having difficulty figuring out how to evoke the reader’s senses, you may want to use similes and metaphors. A simile is a comparison that uses the word “like” or “as.” A metaphor is a comparison that does not use these words. If you put a few similes and metaphors in the poem, you may have an easier time finding other descriptive words you can work into your acrostic poem.

Step 5: Proofread and Revise

Once the lines are on the page, go back and proofread the poem. Of course, you should look for basic spelling mistakes, but you must also make sure your word choice is solid. Because poems are shorter than prose, every word matters. Try to make abstract language a bit more concrete, use a thesaurus to find synonyms that can better communicate your message, and ensure that you stay on topic. The last line should still be closely related to the word you have going down the left-hand side of the page.

Step 6: Have Someone Else Read Your Acrostic Poem

Finally, consider having someone else read your acrostic poem. See if they understand the hidden meaning of the poem, and see what they think about the word you chose to go down the left-hand side of the page. You probably have a certain feeling you want the reader to experience while reading the poem, so see what other people say. They may also have tips for creative ways to use some of the letters in your word.

Once you have tried the basic acrostic form, you may want to try one of the other types discussed above. 

Interesting Facts About What is Acrostic Poetry

There are a few interesting facts about acrostic poems you may want to know. They include:

  • The longest poem ever written is an acrostic poem. Patrick Huet wrote “Pieces of Hope to the Echo of the World.” It has a total of 7,600 verses, and it was so long that it needed a piece of fabric that was more than 0.6 miles long to fit all the words. 
  • The Dutch national anthem is also an acrostic poem. If you look at the letters, it spells Willem Van Nassov, also called William of Orange. He is widely considered the father of the Netherlands.
  • If you listen to “abecedarian,” you will realize it says “A, B, C, D,” which is how the poem is written.

Think about these facts as you try to put together your acrostic poem!

If you are interested in learning more, check out our round-up of 10 classic poems with metaphors!

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