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Sketchbook

A Writer's Handbook

Acrostic: The Puzzler


Acrostic writing has a long historical record. 
Acrostic is a Greek word; acros  means outermost and stichos means line of poetry. In an acrostic writing the first letters of each successive line spells names, words, phrases, or even sentences.  Sometimes writers applied this technique to the last letter of every line; this device is called a telestich Writings in which the author spells out a message using the middle letters to form the message is called a mesostich. Some acrostics use two of these arrangements, first and end, or first and middle; this kind of writing is called a double acrostic.

The acrostic has been adapted in unique ways.  Edgar Allan Poe used an acrostic form in some of his sonnets and other poems where the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, the third letter of the third line, etc., form  the full name of some of his female admirers. This is called a cross acrostic.

Acrostic writing was used by early Greek and Latin writers as well as monks in the middle ages.  Examples of acrostic writing can be found in many languages and cultures and have been used in every century. 

The oldest example of acrostic writing using the initial letters to spell out a whole sentence  dates from ca. 1000 B.C.; these seven Babylonian texts use the first syllable of each ideogram to form the acrostic.

Acrostics are often combined with other writing forms; one example in this issue combines the acrostic with a riddle.  Both the title and text of the poem suggest some clues to help the reader identify the riddle.

The following acrostic poems listed below demonstrate some fascinating uses of language.

John Daleiden

Read the Acrostic poems in Sketchbook



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