Thursday, October 24, 2013

Acrostic Poetry

By Kenneth A O'Shaughnessy

If you are looking for a challenge, or for inspiration, a fun way to play with words is to try writing an acrostic poem. In an acrostic poem, the first letter of each line is part of a sequence, usually a word or a phrase. A well-known biblical acrostic poem is Psalm 119 (118), in which each stanza has all of it’s lines begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order.

Acrostics can provide structure to a poem, or they can be used to “hide” a message. Apparently flattering poems were written of British statesmen Gordon Macdonald and Colonel Sanders with insulting acrostics. Lewis Carroll uses an acrostic in Through the Looking Glass to confirm that “Alice” is Alice Liddell. Edgar Allan Poe wants to make sure we don’t miss his acrostic - he even names the poem “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,
Breathe 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.

Here is an acrostic poem I wrote for my son this time last year, for his pirate-themed 9th birthday:

Avast ye lubbers cries the cap'n
Never mind what else may happen
Don't ye know there's treasure waitin'
Ye deck needs swabbed and anchor weightin'

C'mon Injun Pirates, tug hard the oar
And follow the map on yonder shore
Never let your war paint run
Nor feathers droop until we're done
Our treasure safe within the hold
Now let's go find some pirate gold

On they rowed to the desert isle
Soon they closed the watery mile
Hopped to shore on pegged legs
And took a swig from rummy kegs
Under the canopy of green went they
Going wherever the map did say
Here scaling cliffs, there through a cave
Now they've arrived - a shallow grave
Ev'ryone digs except the cap
Soon they unearth another map
Says the treasure is there with them
You'll find it in the acronym

Kenneth A O'Shaughnessy is a freelance writer and poet living in the upstate of South Carolina with his wife and four children. To find his daily poetry entries, log onto: 

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