What is an acrostic poem? What sets an acrostic poem apart from other types of poetry and how is an acrostic poem written? In this post, we will be answering all of the questions and taking a look at a few examples of acrostic poems. Let’s get started with a definition of acrostic poetry.

What is an Acrostic Poem

Let’s define acrostic poem

If you are interested in poems of all types, then be sure to check out our writer’s guide to poetry. And, if you encounter any other unfamiliar writing terms, our screenwriter’s vocabulary guide is a great resource to look things up.

So, what is acrostic poetry?

ACROSTIC POEM examples

What is an acrostic poem?

An acrostic poem is a style of poetry in which certain letters from the poem spell out a name, word, or even an entire phrase that may or may not be related to the content of the poem. It is typically the first letter of each line that spells out the word or phrase, and the poem is typically arranged to spell out the word vertically, but these are not mandatory rules for a poem to be considered acrostic.

Acrostic Poem Characteristics: 

  • Individual letters from each line spell something else
  • Typically the first letter of each line
  • Often arranged to spell the word or phrase vertically

Now we have a definition of acrostic poetry but not all acrostic poems are the same.

Good Acrostic Poems

Types of Acrostic Poems

Acrostic poems can come in a few different forms. It all comes down to what works best for the poet.

Conventional Acrostic Poem

This is what most people think of when they think of an acrostic poem.  The first letter of each line spells something out, like in John Keats’ poem for his sister, Georgina:

What is an Acrostic Poem John Keats Headshot StudioBinder

Give me your patience, sister, while I frame
Exact in capitals your golden name;
Or sue the fair Apollo and he will
Rouse from his heavy slumber and instill
Great love in me for thee and Poesy.
Imagine not that greatest mastery
And kingdom over all the Realms of verse,
Nears more to heaven in aught, than when we nurse
And surety give to love and Brotherhood.

— John Keats

We see that the first letters combined spell Georgina. What a nice brother.

Telestich

The telestich acrostic poem is the opposite of the conventional: it uses the end of each line to spell something out. Take a look at Michael Lockwood’s “Shire Horse”:

Stands so higH
Huge hooves toO
Impatiently waits foR
Reins and harnesS

Eager to leavE

Shire Horse by Michael Lockwood

Lockwood emphasizes the word he’s spelling out through capitalization.

Mesostich

The mesostic acrostic poem relies on emphasis even more than the telestich. Here, the letters for the acrostic are found in the middle of each line in a poem. Avant garde artist and composer John Cage loved to write mesostic poems.

What is an Acrostic Poem John Cage

Acrostic poetry

Here, Cage spells out the name of Marcel Duchamp, the Dada luminary.

Double Acrostic

Writing a conventional acrostic too easy? Try a double acrostic. In this for, the first letters of each line spell out a word, and the last letters of each line also spell out a word. The words can be different or the same, as is the case in this acrostic title Shroud from 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.

Shroud by Paul Hansford

Abecedarian Poem

The abecedarian poem eschews a single word and goes for the whole alphabet, in order. Take this example from Randall Mann:

What is an Acrostic Poem Randall Mann Headshot StudioBinder

“Adore” was my song
Back in ’87—
Cool beans, I liked to say,
Desperately uncool.
Except for you.
Florida, a dirty hand
Gesture; the state, pay dirt.
Headphones on, I heard,
In a word, you were sex,
Just in time. Who was I
Kidding? Then, as now,
Love is too weak to define.
Mostly I just ran,
Not yet sixteen,
Overreaching. Track star,
Pretty uniform.
Queer, of course. Adore.
Rewind: my beloved teammates
Sometimes called me Cinnamon
Toast Crunch, or CTC, being neither black nor white.
Until the end of time.
Vanity would never do it for me.
Would you? You were definite, the
X in my fix. And now,
You’re gone. The old, on repeat. The new
Zeal: zero.


Alphabet Street by Randall Mann

Still haven’t gotten your acrostic fix yet? Let’s look at some more famous examples.

Good Acrostic Poems

Acrostic poem examples

The acrostic poem is one of the simplest types of poetry but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to read or create.

Let’s start with a lesson on acrostic poems aimed at children, who are usually the target demographic of this kind of poetry.

Acrostic poem examples  •  What does acrostic poem mean

Now, let’s look at a few more complicated examples. Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll was a fan of acrostic poetry and created a number of them in this lifetime. This passage of Carroll’s is an acrostic poem that spells out the full name of the little girl that the titular Alice in Wonderland was based on.

What is an Acrostic Poem Lewis Caroll Headshot StudioBinder

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?


A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky by Lewis Carroll

Edgar Allan Poe also dabbled in acrostics. The poem below spells out the name Elizabeth, as this was who the poem was written for.

What is Stanza in a Poem Edgar Allan Poe Headshot StudioBinder

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.


Elizabeth by Edgar Allen Poe

Next, let’s go over how to write an acrostic poem if you feel like giving it a shot yourself. If you’re stuck for inspiration, check out our creative writing prompts.

Example of Acrostic Poem

How to write an acrostic poem

To write an acrostic poem, you must choose the name, word, or phrase you wish to spell out using letters from each line first, before writing the lines themselves. If we wanted to make an acrostic poem out of the word poem (we're working with pretty fitting acrostic poem words), we would start by arranging arranging the letters of poem vertically, as so:

P

O

E

M

Then proceed to fill out each line, as so:

Poetry

Opens

Every

Mind

Poem where you write a word for each letter  •  What is Acrostic Poetry

Keep in mind that these examples are about as simple as you can get. When making your own acrostic poetry, feel free to try and make them as complex as possible. You could even try to code messages by hiding the spelled-out phrase somewhere within the lines instead of as the first letter of each line.

If you are up for a greater challenge, try your hand at a double acrostic and spell out different words with the first and last letters of each line.

UP NEXT

Writer’s Guide to Poetry

You now know everything you need to know about acrostic poetry and read some famous acrostic poems, but there are many other types of poetry. Acrostic poetry is just one of a large assortment of poem styles. Learn all about the different types of poetry, what a poem is at its core level, the history of poetry, and more, up next.

Up Next: Guide to Poetry →
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  • Sam Kench is an internationally-awarded screenwriter, independent filmmaker, and film critic. Lover of foreign films; hater of American remakes.

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