is a poem
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...
or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph
A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea. A paragraph consists of one or more sentences. The start of a paragraph is indicated by beginning on a new line. Sometimes the first line is indented...
or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. As a form of constrained writing
Constrained writing is a literary technique in which the writer is bound by some condition that forbids certain things or imposes a pattern.Constraints are very common in poetry, which often requires the writer to use a particular verse form....
, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...
device to aid memory retrieval. A famous acrostic was made in Greek for the acclamation JESUS CHRIST, GOD'S SON, SAVIOUR
. The initials spell ICHTHYS
Ichthys, from Koine Greek: , is the Greek word for "fish"....
, Greek for fish
– hence the frequent use of the fish as a symbol for Jesus Christ from the early days of Christianity to the present time.
Relatively simple acrostics may merely spell out the letters of the alphabet in order; such an acrostic may be called an 'alphabetical acrostic' or Abecedarius
An abecedarius is an acrostic in which the first letter of every word, strophe or verse follows the order of the alphabet. Abecedarius is also a generic term for an alphabet book, which dates back to Biblical writings such as the Psalms, which used successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the...
. These acrostics occur in the first four of the five songs that make up the Book of Lamentations
The Book of Lamentations ) is a poetic book of the Hebrew Bible composed by the Jewish prophet Jeremiah. It mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in the 6th Century BCE....
, in the praise of the good wife in Proverbs 31
Chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible, is presented as advice which Lemuel's mother gave to him, about how a virtuous king should reign, and also detailing the attributes of a virtuous wife or ideal woman...
, 10-31, and in Psalms 9
Psalm 9 is the debut album by the American doom metal band Trouble, released in 1984. The album was originally released eponymously and was renamed to Psalm 9 after the release of their fourth album, which was their 1990 self-titled release...
Psalm 10 is the 10th psalm from the Book of Psalms.The message is similar to that of Psalm 9, though it focuses more on the individual than humanity...
-Judaism:*Verse 4 is recited responsively during the repetition of the Amidah on Rosh Hashanah.*Verse 6 is the third verse of V'hu Rachum in Pesukei Dezimra part of the opening paragraph of the long Tachanun recited on Mondays and Thursdays, and part of the final paragraph of the regular Tachanun....
-Judaism:*Is recited in its entirety during Pesukei Dezimra on Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Hoshana Rabbah.*Verse 4 is recited when the Torah scroll is taken out of the ark.*Verses 10-11 are part of the final paragraph of Birkat Hamazon....
-Judaism:*Verse 21 if found in Pirkei Avot Chapter 2, no. 14.*Verse 25 is part of the final paragraph of Birkat Hamazon....
Psalm 111 is the 111th psalm from the Book of Psalms.Psalm 111 and 112 are the only Psalms that are acrostic by phrase in the Bible.; that is, each 7-9 syllable phrase begins with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order.-Judaism:...
Psalm 112 is the 112th psalm from the Book of Psalms. Just like Psalm 111, it is arranged alphabetically.This Psalm is numbered as Psalm 111 in Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate....
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible. It is referred to in Hebrew by its opening words, "Ashrei temimei derech" . It is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law...
-Judaism:*The majority of the prayer Ashrei that is recited thrice daily is Psalm 145 .*Verse 13 is found in the repetition to the Amidah on Rosh Hashanah....
of the Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...
Notable among the acrostic Psalms are the long Psalm 119, which typically is printed in subsections named after the letters of the Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...
, each of which is featured in that section; and Psalm 145
The Ashrei is a prayer that is recited at least three times daily in Jewish prayers, twice during Shacharit and once during Mincha. The prayer is composed primarily of Psalm 145 in its entirety, with a verse each from Psalms 84 and 144 added to the beginning, and a verse from Psalm 115 added to...
, which is recited three times a day in the Jewish services
Jewish prayer are the prayer recitations that form part of the observance of Judaism. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book....
. Acrostics prove that the texts in question were originally composed in writing, rather than having existed in oral tradition before being put into writing.
Acrostics are common in medieval literature, where they most commonly serve to highlight the name of the poet or his patron, or to make a prayer to a saint. They are most common in verse works but can also appear in prose.
Often the ease of detectability of an acrostic can depend on the intention of its creator. In some cases an author may desire an acrostic to have a better chance of being perceived by an observant reader, such as the acrostic contained in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili , called in English Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream, is a romance said to be by Francesco Colonna and a famous example of early printing...
(where the key capital letters are decorated with ornate embellishments), or as in the poem To Doctor Empiric
(by Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...
) which is a verse outlined after the word W-O-L-F
giving emphasis to, and capitalizing the key letters so such acrostic is relatively easier to discern. However, acrostics may also be used as a form of steganography
Steganography is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity...
, where the author seeks to conceal the message rather than proclaim it. This might be achieved by making the key letters uniform in appearance with the surrounding text, or by aligning the words in such a way that the relationship between the key letters is less obvious. This is referred to as null ciphers
in steganography, using the first letter of each word to form a hidden message in an otherwise innocuous text. Using letters to hide a message, as in acrostic ciphers, was popular during the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...
, and could employ various methods of enciphering, such as selecting other letters than initials based on a repeating pattern (equidistant letter sequences), or even concealing the message by starting at the end of the text and working backwards.
Secreted in the Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus
) is also an acrostic: the first letters of its fifteen stanzas spell WILLEM VAN NASSOV. This was one of the hereditary titles of William of Orange (William the Silent
William I, Prince of Orange , also widely known as William the Silent , or simply William of Orange , was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648. He was born in the House of...
), who introduces himself in the poem to the Dutch people. This title also returned in 2010 in the Troonrede, the Dutch State of the Union. The first 15 lines formed also WILLEM VAN NASSOV.
The classic mnemonic device for remembering planets is a well known example. Take the first letters of each planet in order and make a sentence with them as the first letters of each word. Although slightly modified of late it still works.
There is a classic example of acrostic poem in English written by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...
is entitled 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 follie — pride — and passion — for he died.
In Lewis Carroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll , was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the...
's Through the Looking-Glass
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There is a work of literature by Lewis Carroll . It is the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland...
, the final chapter "A Boat, Beneath A Sunny Sky" is an acrostic of the real Alice's name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.
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 -
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden gleam -
Life, what is it but a dream?
Contained in A Calendar Acrostic
is another example where the initial letters spell out the months of the year:
JANet was quite ill one day.
FEBrile trouble came her way.
MARtyr-like, she lay in bed;
APRoned nurses softly sped.
MAYbe, said the leech judicial
JUNket would be beneficial.
JULeps, too, though freely tried,
AUGured ill, for Janet died.
SEPulchre was sadly made.
OCTaves pealed and prayers were said.
NOVices with ma'y a tear
DECorated Janet's bier.
In January 2010, Jonathan I. Schwartz
Jonathan Ian Schwartz is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Picture of Health. He was formerly the President and CEO of Sun Microsystems prior to its acquisition by Oracle, and previously the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Lighthouse Design, Ltd., a software company focused on...
, the CEO of Sun Microsystems
Sun Microsystems, Inc. was a company that sold :computers, computer components, :computer software, and :information technology services. Sun was founded on February 24, 1982...
, sent an email to Sun employees on the completion of the acquisition of Sun by Oracle Corporation
Oracle Corporation is an American multinational computer technology corporation that specializes in developing and marketing hardware systems and enterprise software products – particularly database management systems...
. The initial letters of the first seven paragraphs spelled "Beat IBM
International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...
James Daniel May is an English television presenter, journalist and writer. He is best known for his role as co-presenter of the award-winning motoring programme Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond....
, presenter on the BBC program Top Gear
, was fired from the publication Autocar
Autocar is a weekly British automobile magazine published by Haymarket Motoring Publications Ltd. It refers to itself as "The World's oldest car magazine".-History:...
for spelling out a message using the large red initial
In a written or published work, an initial is a letter at the beginning of a work, a chapter, or a paragraph that is larger than the rest of the text. The word is derived from the Latin initialis, which means standing at the beginning...
at the beginning of each review in the publication's Road Test Yearbook Issue
for 1992. Properly punctuated, the message reads: "So you think it's really good? Yeah, you should try making the bloody thing up. It's a real pain in the arse."
Acrostics can be more complex than just by making words from initials. A double acrostic, for example, may have words at the beginning and end of its lines, as this example, on the name of Stroud
Stroud is a market town and civil parish in the county of Gloucestershire, England. It is the main town in Stroud District.Situated below the western escarpment of the Cotswold Hills at the meeting point of the Five Valleys, the town is noted for its steep streets and cafe culture...
, by Paul Hansford -
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.
This example can be considered a more complex form of acrostic. This classical poetry is titled Behold, O God!
written by William Browne published in 1815 in his book "Original Poems By William Browne." The poem has highlighted letters inside its verses such that when they are grouped together, printed as red letters in the manuscript, the letters depict three crosses and the topmost middle cross reads "INRI", in Latin means "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" translated as "Jesus of Nazareth King of Jews." The crosses contain verses from the New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....
. The left cross contains Luke 23:42 "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
" The middle cross contains Matthew 27:46 "O God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me
?" The right cross contains Luke 23:39 "If thou art the Christ, save thyself and us.
" The three being representations of what each of the three spake as they were capitally punished that evening.
BEHOLD, O God! IN RIvers of my tears
I come to thee! bow down thy blessed ears
To hear me, wretch, and let thine eyes (which sleep
Did never close) behold a sinner weep:
Let not, O GOD, MY GOD, my faults through great,
And numberless, betWeen thy mercy's seat
And my poor soul be tHrown! since we are taught,
Thou, LORD, REMEMBER'st thYne, IF THOU [ART] be sought.
I coME not, Lord, witH any oTHEr merit
Than WHat I by my SAviour CHrist inherit:
Be thEN his woundS my balm; his stRIpes my bliss;
My crown his THorns; my deaTh be loST in his.
And thOU, my blesT Redeemer, SAviour, God,
Quit my acCOunts, withHold the VEngeful rod!
O beg for ME! my hOpes on Thee are set;
And ChriST forgiVe, as well as pay tHe debt
The livINg fount, the liFe, the waY, I know,
And but TO thee, O whither Should I go?
All oTHer helps aRe vain: grant thinE to me,
For in thY cross my Saving heaLth must be.
O hearKen then whAt I with Faith implore,
Lest SIN and Death sinK me for evermore.
- Acronym and initialism
Acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word. These components may be individual letters or parts of words . There is no universal agreement on the precise definition of the various terms , nor on written usage...
A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed purposely, such that an acronym can be formed to a specific desired word. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology....
- Gordon Macdonald, 1st Baron Macdonald of Gwaenysgor
Gordon Macdonald, PC, 1st Baron Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, was a British Labour Party politician and Newfoundland's final British governor as well as the last chairman of the Commission of Government serving from 1946 until the colony joined Confederation in 1949 and became a province of Canada...
A mesostic is a poem or other typography such that a vertical phrase intersects lines of horizontal text. It is similar to an acrostic, but with the vertical phrase intersecting the middle of the line, as opposed to beginning each new line....
- O Antiphons
thumb|The [[Annunciation]]The O Antiphons are Magnificat antiphons used at Vespers of the last seven days of Advent in various liturgical Christian traditions.Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture...
- Word square
A word square is a special type of acrostic. It consists of a set of words written out in a square grid, such that the same words can be read both horizontally and vertically. The number of words, which is equal to the number of letters in each word, is known as the "order" of the square...