‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll is an acrostic poem. The poet talks about three “little maidens” in the poem and how they pass their “Holiday” in the house. There are four references in the poem. The first three are the names of three girls, Lorina, Alice and Edith. The last one spells out “Holiday House” in which the girls live. The poem is based on Catherine Sinclair’s children’s tale “Holiday House” published in 1861. Lewis Carroll refers to the name of the book twice in the poem.
Summary of Acrostic
‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll is a poem based on the children’s story “Holiday House” by Sinclair. The “Little Maidens” mentioned in the poem are three children characters of this book. The poet using the acrostic form hides their names in the poem. He also implicitly mentions the name of the book “Holiday House” in between the lines of the poem. In the poem, the poet tells those three little girls to balance their lifestyle. Pastime is as important as one’s daily work. If children can implement the poet’s advice in their daily routine “Then be very sure that they/ Have a life of HOLIDAY.” In this way, the poet presents an innovative definition of “holiday” in his poem ‘Acrostic’.
Structure of Acrostic
‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll is an acrostic poem. It presents the names of three little girls, Lorina, Alice, and Edith as well as the storybook to which they belonged. After arranging the first letter of each line in order the names spell out easily. In between lines, the poet hides the name of the storybook, “Holiday House”. However, there are a total of 16 lines in the poem. The poet employs the regular rhyme scheme, a popular rhyming pattern present in most of the children’s poetry. The rhyme scheme is aa bb cc and it goes on like this. There is only one imperfect rhyme in the poem which can be found in the third and fourth lines of the poem.
Most of the lines in the poem contain seven syllables and the poem is written in trochaic tetrameter. As there is one syllable short in the last foot, such an ending becomes an example of a catalectic foot. It’s mostly used in lines containing trochaic meters. However, the metrical composition of the poem brings out an interesting quality of the poem. The meter of the poem creates an air of excitement. The meter also helps the poet to pass on the sustained energy of each line to the lines following it.
‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll makes use of several interesting literary devices for emphasizing the poet’s idea regarding “Holiday”. The first line contains an allusion to the three characters of Catherine Sinclair’s “Holiday House” namely Lorina, Alice, and Edith. The poet also alludes to the book’s name twice in the poem. The first line also contains an apostrophe as the poet invokes the fictional characters as living beings. The poet uses synecdoche in the phrase “attentive eye”. It is also an example of a personal metaphor. The phrase “enticing history” is a metaphorical reference to the tales of the book.
The poet uses the most important metaphor in the poem in the line, “And that in a HOUSE of joy”. Here the “HOUSE of joy” refers to a house that is full of excitement. The poet uses two ideas in this phrase. One is of the house that produces idle minds and another is of the house that builds the foundation of a child properly. The poet emphasizes the latter in his poem. The poet uses anaphora in the lines beginning with “Each” in the last section of the poem. The last line contains another metaphor of a life of true happiness in the phrase “life of HOLIDAY”. It is an epigram too.
Analysis of Acrostic
Little maidens, when you look
On this little story-book,
Reading with attentive eye
Its enticing history,
Never think that hours of play
Are your only HOLIDAY,
And that in a HOUSE of joy
Lessons serve but to annoy:
‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll refers to the children’s tale “Holiday House” in the first few lines of the poem. The poet uses the three characters of the book as a mere reference. The actual reference is made to all the children who have come across this book. The poet advises them in a fatherly tone. The stories in the book might be “enticing” but they are fictional. They are meant for enjoyment. If children forget their daily routine by only reading such stories it would badly affect their future. In simple words, it would make them idle.
For this reason, the poet advises children not to think the “hours of play” are like a holiday. They should not give that importance to those things that their daily life starts to feel like a burden. Their daily lessons are what make them better persons in the future. In this way, the poet presents his realistic thoughts regarding the concept of “HOLIDAY” in this section.
If in any HOUSE you find
Children of a gentle mind,
Each the others pleasing ever—
Each the others vexing never—
Daily work and pastime daily
In their order taking gaily—
Then be very sure that they
Have a life of HOLIDAY.
In the second section of the poem, Carroll introduces his intention behind writing this poem. Like a father or grandfather advises children, the poet implements the same cool and wise tone in this section. The poet refers to a “HOUSE” that according to his view is ideal. In an ideal house “Children are of a gentle mind”. It means that they are respectful to their elders and gentle in their behavior to others. They always please others with their childish innocence and never use their energy to draw pleasure from someone’s pain.
In the last few lines, the poet presents the ways that will make a child’s life seem like a holiday. The poet says if a child balances her daily life and executes her daily responsibilities, her life will definitely become happier than before. It brings completeness to a child’s life. In this way, each moment of the day appears as a holiday. The poet’s use of the word “HOLIDAY” is metaphorical here. He brings home the idea of enjoying an active life not a passive one through this poem.
Historical Context of Acrostic
‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll appeared in the month of Christmas, 1861. The poet dedicated this poem to “the three Misses Lidell” of Catherine Sinclair’s “Holiday House”. The dedication is visible in the poem’s body. However, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name “Lewis Carroll”, was an enthusiast of the Victorian spirit. Hence his poem reflects the spirit of the age that is the value of an active life. A child’s early years build the foundation of her future. If she begins idly by avoiding her daily work, it would also reflect in her future self. That’s why the poet advises his child readers, not to indulge in playful activities during the time of studying. They should have to balance their daily lives. Whatsoever, the poem also reflects the utilitarian perspective of the age.
‘Acrostic’ by Lewis Carroll is basically an acrostic that revolves around children. The following poems also focus on the themes the poet has discussed in this poem.
- An Acrostic by Edgar Allan Poe – In this poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, the poet also uses the acrostic form to convey his message to Elizabeth Letitia Landon.
- The Children’s Hour by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – The poet of this poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow uses a tone that is similar to that of Lewis Carroll used in his poem.
- Among School Children by William Butler Yeats – In this famous poem by William Butler Yeats, the speaker presents the simplicity of children and their attitude towards the old poet.
- The Echoing Green by William Blake – William Blake metaphorically presents the spontaneous nature of children and creates contrast by the use of imagery in the poem. The essence of the poem is similar to that of Carroll’s poem.