What is an Abecedarian Poem?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAn abecedarian poem is one in which each successive line begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Perhaps one of the most famous abecedarian poems, The Siege of Belgrade, was written by British poet and journalist Alaric Alexander Watts (1797-1864). Each line of the poem begins with a different letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. Not only is Watts’ poem abecedarian, it is also alliterative — the poem uses the repeated sound of the stressed syllables (in this case the first few letters) of the first word in each line, which makes it a bit challenging to read, not unlike reading consecutive tongue twisters. And because the first and last words of each line have the same sound, each line is also an example of symmetrical alliteration. This particular poem was printed in Wheeler’s Magazine in 1828. Watts poems were published in two different collections: Lyrics of the Heart (1850) and The Laurel and the Lyre (1867). Enough of the introductory notes, let’s get to the poem. The Siege of Belgrade appears below; try reading it out loud and see if you can get through it without tripping up.

The Siege of Belgrade

An Austrian army, awfully arrayed,
Boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.
Cossack commanders cannonading come,
Dealing destruction’s devastating doom.
Every endeavor engineers essay,
For fame, for fortune fighting – furious fray!
Generals ‘gainst generals grapple – gracious God!
How honors Heaven heroic hardihood!
Infuriate, indiscrminate in ill,
Just Jesus, instant innocence instill!
Kindred kill kinsmen, kinsmen kindred kill.
Labor low levels longest, lofiest lines;
Men march ‘mid mounds, ‘mid moles, ‘ mid murderous mines;
Now noxious, noisey numbers nothing, naught
Of outward obstacles, opposing ought;
Poor patriots, partly purchased, partly pressed,
Quite quaking, quickly “Quarter! Quarter!” quest.
Reason returns, religious right redounds,
Suwarrow stops such sanguinary sounds.
Truce to thee, Turkey! Triumph to thy train,
Unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!
Vanish vain victory! vanish, victory vain!
Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were
Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?
Yield, yield, ye youths! ye yeomen, yield your yell!
Zeus’, Zarpater’s, Zoroaster’s zeal,
Attracting all, arms against acts appeal!

Read related posts: Words Invented by Book Lovers
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
There’s a Word for That: Epeolatry

What is an Abecedarian Insult?

For further reading: Lyrics of the Heart by Alaric Alexander Watts
The Laurel and the Lyre by Alaric Alexander Watts
http://voiceseducation.org/content/alaric-watts-siege-belgrade
http://www.bartleby.com/100/690.161.html


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