Jul 22, 2010


An abecedarius is a poem in which each line or stanza begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. To be honest, when I first came across this form I thought it was going to be a modern, invented form. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Abecedarius is a very old form. It was often used in ancient cultures for sacred compositions, such as prayers, hymns and oracles.

Historically, alphabets have often been given significance similar to that of numerology, in which numbers are given mystical meaning. This could explain why abecedarii are often religious in nature.

One of the most highly regarded examples is Psalm 118 (or 119 by King James numbering). It consists of twenty-two eight-line stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Unfortunately, the translation does not reflect the Hebrew alphabetical sequence, although I did find a bible that listed the Hebrew letter at the beginning of each stanza.

In 1375, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote "An ABC", a translation of a French prayer into twenty-three eight-line stanzas that follow the medieval alphabet (minus J, U, V, and W).

The modern Abecedarian poem is most often used as a mnemonic device or word game. There are, however, many more serious examples such as Carolyn Forché’s forty-seven page poem, "On Earth," where she adheres not only to alphabetical order as a guide to the stanzas, but also the words themselves.

To see some excellent examples of this form, click HERE.

And here is my own example:

A path lies before me
But before I make that first step
Careful consideration must be taken,
Direction must be chosen with care
Else all I have worked for will be
Forgotten, lost to time.
Gainsay me not
However you may feel.
Independence is gained at a cost,
Justified by circumstance perhaps but
Kindling forever a doubt that
Leaving the old behind
Might not be the wisest choice.
Nomadic wanderings are not the answer.
Oblivion beckons,
Paradise is waiting in the wings, filled with
Quixotic imaginings and
Ragamuffin dreams.
Sanctimonious souls preaching restraint
Taint the free will but leave me
Unmoved by their words.
Venomous thoughts seep through the cracks,
Waiting their turn for recognition like
Xenolith fragments in a rock.
Yearning to be elsewhere, the
Zephyr takes me away.

No comments: