Sestina is derived from the Italian name "sesto" (sixth).
A sestina is a poem, French in origin, with seven stanzas. The first six stanzas are sestets (six line stanzas).
The last is a triplet (a three-line stanza) in the form of an envoi – a concluding stanza that is half the size of the
preceding stanzas. Sounds simple enough, but the challenge comes by repeating the pattern of end words.
Here is how to write a sestina.
In a sestina, the six words that come at the end of each line in the first sestet are repeated in a particular Sample:
pattern in each of the remaining sestets. The pattern in the first sestet will be 123456. The pattern in the
second sestet will be 615243. Each of the remaining sestets will continue to work off of the stanza above
it with the pattern of 615243.
For instance, if you had a poem where the ending words of each line of the first sestet were:
sun (1), basking (2), alone (3), memory (4), distance (5), and joy (6); the same six words would end the
second sestet in the following order: joy (6), sun (1), distance (5), basking (2), memory (4), and alone (3).
The third stanza would work off of the second stanza, repeating the same pattern of 615243, so it would
look like this: alone (6), joy (1), memory (5), sun (2), basking (4), distance (3).
The remaining sestets would repeat the same pattern working off of the one above it.
The last stanza, the envoi, is only three verses long. Three of the repeated end words are used as the
end words of each line. The unused end words must be used somewhere else within those lines, one in
Sometimes the best way to understand the form of a poem is to look at an example. You can view an
example of Rudyard Kipling’s Sestina of the Tramp-Royal here.
There are two methods you can use to come up with your end words if you are attempting to write a
sestina. The first is to choose six words before you begin writing and let them dictate the poem. The
other is to write a six line stanza without any particular words in mind. Let the words that naturally end
your stanza become the words that will be used in the pattern.
Sestinas generally do not rhyme.
There is no set number of syllables per line in a sestina. However, it is helpful to the rhythm of a poem to
try to keep the number of syllables per line similar in length. It also just makes it look better on a page.
1 2 3 4 5 6 - End words of lines in first sestet.
6 1 5 2 4 3 - End words of lines in second sestet.
3 6 4 1 2 5 - End words of lines in third sestet.
5 3 2 6 1 4 - End words of lines in fourth sestet.
4 5 1 3 6 2 - End words of lines in fifth sestet.
2 4 6 5 3 1 - End words of lines in sixth sestet.
6 2) (1 4) (5 3) - Middle and end words of lines in tercet.
The Concord Art Association Regrets
Your entry was not accepted. We regret
it wasn't (enough for us), a work of love.
We liked many of the colors on the whole
but the mass was just something unrelated
to the rest of our show. We hope your work
will have a bright future in another place.
We remember last year you tried to place
another photograph and it was also with regret
we turned you down. Though for that particular work
we found nothing about it (no one could) to love.
It was obscure and a little upsetting in relation
to the rest of our show which we look on as a whole.
Now you may think us ungenerous. On the whole
you are probably right, but this is our place
and we can do what we want whether you relate
to it or not. However we don't want you to regret
your association with us. We want you to love
us, send us money, but please, no more work.
You see right now we need money to work
on the building we're in. There's a hole
in the roof and one wall needs all the love
and attention it can get. Really the place
needs so much, which all costs. I regret
to remind you we need more space for related
works. We're trying to expand and relate
to lots of different kinds of work
so different people won't regret
their visit with us but will see the whole
beauty and tranquillity of the place
and come with us, a journey of love
where people of all races, colors, and creeds love
to look and bask and of course bring relations,
friends, and lovers. All are welcome to our place
here where all the world's magnificent work
can be shown in its entirety, the whole
place filled - with your exception, we regret.
We know you'll love the whole
work we're doing for this place.
We can't relate enough our regret.
(Copyright © 1983-2003 by Pam White.)
borrowed from http://www.baymoon.com/~ariadne/form/sestina.htm
Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
Sestina of the Tramp-Royal
By Rudyard Kipling
Speakin' in general, I 'ave tried 'em all,
The 'appy roads that take you o'er the world.
Speakin' in general, I 'ave found them good
For such as cannot use one bed too long,
But must get 'ence, the same as I 'ave done,
An' go observin' matters till they die.
What do it matter where or 'ow we die,
So long as we've our 'ealth to watch it all --
The different ways that different things are done,
An' men an' women lovin' in this world --
Takin' our chances as they come along,
An' when they ain't, pretendin' they are good?
In cash or credit -- no, it aren't no good;
You 'ave to 'ave the 'abit or you'd die,
Unless you lived your life but one day long,
Nor didn't prophesy nor fret at all,
But drew your tucker some'ow from the world,
An' never bothered what you might ha' done.
But, Gawd, what things are they I 'aven't done?
I've turned my 'and to most, an' turned it good,
In various situations round the world --
For 'im that doth not work must surely die;
But that's no reason man should labour all
'Is life on one same shift; life's none so long.
Therefore, from job to job I've moved along.
Pay couldn't 'old me when my time was done,
For something in my 'ead upset me all,
Till I 'ad dropped whatever 'twas for good,
An', out at sea, be'eld the dock-lights die,
An' met my mate -- the wind that tramps the world!
It's like a book, I think, this bloomin' world,
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you're readin' done,
An' turn another -- likely not so good;
But what you're after is to turn 'em all.
Gawd bless this world! Whatever she 'ath done --
Excep' when awful long -- I've found it good.
So write, before I die, "'E liked it all!"