Acrostic Mnemonics

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An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. An acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aid memory retrieval.


Secreted in the Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus (The William) 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), who introduces himself in the poem to the Dutch people. 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.

  • My

  • Very

  • Excellent

  • Mother

  • Just

  • Served

  • Us

  • Nachos

  • Mercury

  • Venus

  • Earth

  • Mars

  • Jupiter

  • Saturn

  • Uranus

  • Neptune

There is a classic example of acrostic poem in English written by Edgar Allan Poe, 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’s Through the Looking-Glass, 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.

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