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The word \"sestina\" comes from the Italian sesto, or six. The sestina is originally a French form, and a very old one, originating in the twelfth century in the work of Arnaut Daniel, a troubadour. It\'s lyrical and relies on the repetition of six key words and does not normally rhyme. The sestina\'s length lends itself to poems that tell stories or otherwise travel thematically, and its final stanza makes for a strong conclusion.

The form has six sextets and a final tercet. Many sestinas are in iambic pentameter, but it is not necessary; but whatever meter is chosen is usually maintained throughout a single poem--so a sestina might be in pentameter or quadramater, but not generally both.

So far, of course, it sounds simple enough; but in fact the sestina is possibly the single most difficult verse form to write, because while there is no rhyme pattern, there are six words used to end the lines of each stanza, and repeated in a carefully proscribed order until the final tercet. Essentially, each stanza is turned inside out to get the order for the next one. Call the repeated words \"One,\" \"Two\", etc. The six sextets end with the words in this pattern:

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six
Six, One, Five, Two, Four, Three
Three, Six, Four, One, Two, Five
Five, Three, Two, Six, One, Four
Four, Five, One, Three, Six, Two
Two, Four, Six, Five, Three, One

The final tercet uses two words per line. Various sources specify the order differently; the standard seems to be to use Six in the middle of the first line, Two at its end; then One and Four, then Five and Three.

(Six) Two
(One) Four
(Five) Three

As you can see, a good choice of the six words is essential. Words that are simple, concrete nouns work well, or active verbs. Try to choose evocative words, especially if you can use them to mean slightly different things, or metaphorically, or idiomatically.

The easiest way to begin a sestina is usually to select your theme and your six words, then begin working on a sextet, which will hopefully be your first stanza. If you find that you feel it should be your last stanza, or in the middle, that\'s easy enough to deal with too. On a blank sheet of paper, write the final words for each line of each stanza, based on the one you\'ve already written. Then fill in the blanks--which makes it sound easier than it is.

Don\'t be afraid to work backward or from the middle out, or jump around. I find that if I have a sense of movement from the beginning to the end, I can make each stanza a stepping stone along the way, thematically, and that helps immensely. The concluding tercet should give this form a sense of closure; if the pattern of repetition were continued after the sixth sextet, the first would be repeated, and the mind will be unconsciously aware of that.

The sestina read aloud or silently is a subtle and beautiful form. When read aloud, it\'s lyrical; and while the repetition is obvious enough, it\'s not jarring or artificial, and in fact sometimes not apparent at all on the first reading.
This is the second in our series of informative writings about poetic forms. Thank you ~tessuraea for the write-up!

Edited by ~alenia

note: I have seen sestinas written in the form

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six
Six, One, Two, Three, Four, Five
Five, Six, One, Two, Three, Four

and so on looping through the form. The form that ~tessuraea mentioned, however, is more complex and probably more correct. Thanks!
:iconwhiteazaleas:
whiteazaleas Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2004  Hobbyist General Artist
It would be great if I can see an example of a sestina. :nod:
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:iconoddlyaromatic:
oddlyaromatic Featured By Owner May 28, 2003  Hobbyist Writer
Cool, only ever written one, wasn't sure about the structure. Must find a link.

Funnily enough I suspect I may have accidentally hit some kind of proper form, 'cause I was shortlisted in a national contest and got to meet the president over it... *shrugs*
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:iconprevail:
prevail Featured By Owner May 28, 2003   Writer
Bravo!
Great explanation of a very difficult and challenging form.
I should know, I suffered through it just now.

:) (Smile)
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