A sestina is a difficult form of poetry to master. It is made up of seven stanzas, the first six of which have six lines, the seventh having only three. There is a very exact and complicated pattern to the sestina's stanzas:
The first stanza is the defining stanza, and the six words that are used to end each line are the defining words, as they will be repeated throughout the rest of the poem.
The second stanza is made by taking the six words that were used to end the last six lines and using them in a certain order: the last word used will now end the first line of this stanza; the first word used will now end the second line of this stanza; the second to last, the third: the second, the fourth; the third to last, the fifth, the third, the sixth.
For each new stanza of the first six, the same pattern is continued by using the previous stanza. For the last (seventh) stanza, there are only three lines, using the last three ending words, and then having the other three inside each line.
Example: for this, each letter represents the ending word of a line:
a b c d e f (first stanza)
f a e b d c (second stanza)
c f d a b e (third stanza)
e c b f a d (fourth stanza)
d e a c f b (fifth stanza)
b d f e c a (sixth stanza)
a d (1st line of the 7th stanza, "a" must be in the line, but the line must end with "d")
b e (2nd line of the 7th stanza, "b" must be in the line, but the line must end with "e")
c f (3rd line of the 7th stanza, "c" must be in the line, but the line must end with "f")
The last stanza is under much dispute, and is often written differently, but the one we have shown is the most common. Also, a neat variation is to vary the words in the same way, only instead of it being the ending words, having it be the first words of each line!
If you are able to write one of these, we will be very impressed, so send it to us and we'll link it if we like it!
Links to related sites:
The Sestina Page
NMJ: Island Sestina
Sestina (Poetic Term)
The Morpo Review v1i4
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