Sunday 26 November 2017

Grant Me Atonement for Mesostics by Sheila Ash

A mesostic is a poem arranged so that a vertical phrase intersects lines of horizontal text. It is similar to an acrostic, but with the vertical phrase intersecting the middle of the line, as opposed to the beginning of each line. (

Jackson Mac Low developed a type of non-intentional composition using index words to select pieces from an already existing text. This he called “diastics” or “reading through” the source. This was further developed and used extensively by the experimental composer John Cage

When Cage began to write mesostics, he adopted Mac Low's acrostic procedures, but with an important difference. Whereas Mac Low lets chance operations generate the entire text, Cage uses these operations to generate the word pool to be used and the rules to be followed, but he then fills in lines with "wing words," generated, as he repeatedly put it, "according to taste." (see

There are two types of mesostic:

· In a 50% mesostic, the given letter capitalized can occur between it and the following capitalized letter

  • In a 100% mesostic it cannot

Luckily, there is a mesostic generator to help in this process which takes as its input the source text to be “read” and the word or phrase to be used as the “spine” of the resultant mesostic.

The theme of this week’s Writing Class homework was “penance” so I took as my source text the text of the “Song of Penance” , using as my spine phrase “Grant me atonement” and applying the 50% mesostic rule.

Song of Penance

Against You alone have I sinned,
and have often done evil before You.
You see the guilt that deserves Your curse;
see also, God, my suffering.

From You I do not hide my prayers and sighs,
and my tears are before You.
Ah, God, my God, how long should I suffer?
How long will You leave me?

Lord, treat me not according to my sins,
Treat me not according to my guilt.
I seek for You; let me find Your face,
God of forbearance and patience.

May you fill me early with Your grace,
God, Father of Mercy.
Help me for Your name's sake,
You are my God, who gladly helps.

Let me once again happily walk your path
and teach me Your sacred law
so that I can mold myself daily to Your will;
You are my God, I am Your servant.

Lord, hurry to my aid, my Protector,
and lead me on the right path.
He hears my cries, the Lord hears my prayer
and takes my soul in charge.


With minimal changes this reads -


© Sheila Ash, 26th November 2017

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