The Sestina is a complex verse form of poetry. It is French in origin. It was invented by a troubadour named Arnaut Daniel in the twelfth century. The troubadours used the sestina to prove their wit and mastery over complex verse forms. The Sestina has survived through the decades being taken on by many poets in the twentieth century including John Ashbery and Ezra Pound.
How Do you Write a Sestina?
Rules of the Sestina:
- It is a thirty-nine-line poem
- It has 6 stanzas of 6 lines each, followed by a three-line envoi.
- It is unrhymed
- It follows a strict pattern of repetition using the six end words of the first stanza through the remaining stanzas in a set pattern
Explaining this pattern only makes it more confusing it’s better to look at the form template and example below.
Here is the pattern of repetition the end words follow:
7. ECA or ACE
(See highlighted example below)
Example of a Sestina
Here’s an example of a sestina from Corey Bryan
“split pea soup”
living in this house gets harder in the winter,
we just live here now, the two of us, me and babby.
well, I guess it’s not just us, always sleeping is the cat.
whenever it gets a little gloomy out we get out the split peas
something feels so wrong about making soup in the light.
whenever i ask if she needs help cooking she lets out a laugh
god, how warm i feel when i hear her laugh
her smile and the soup makes a summer day in winter.
in our kitchen our landlord put up a light
that is absolutely horrendous and red. “i hate that light, babby”
“yeah, i know. but it does give a nice red hue to the split peas.
they look like blood clots” she laughed and that woke the cat.
stretching her black and white body, complaining, the cat
meows. drowsily, she almost falls out of her chair and i laugh.
“i thought cats were smart, but Eloise is dumb as those split peas”
“don’t be mean!” she scolds. i shut up at look at the winter
landscape through the window. “it’s snowing, babby!”
i tell her. it’s coming down softly. “well the snow’s light
“and you know it’ll never stick if it’s that light.”
she’s such a realist. so instead i go ask the cat.
“i need the real news from you Eloise. babby
says the snow won’t stick, will it?” from the kitchen i hear her laugh
the cat meows and i smile. “she says it’s gonna be a white winter!”
“she’s just telling you so you give her a treat. these split peas
are too small. what is even the point of split peas?
peas are small enough.” she turns around to find the light
switch. she turns the blood clot light off. “winter
is harsh enough without that stupid red light. the cat
hates it too. i think it makes her mad like a bull.” i laugh
and think about Eloise charging up and sprinting at babby.
“do you think you’d be a good matador, babby?”
i ask but i think i know the answer. it’s no. the split peas
are really boiling now. “i’d be the best” and a little laugh
escapes. she knows she’d be shit too. i turn the light
back on. “turn it off” “one sec, i wanna see if the cat
would really charge us.” what’s not to love about winter?
each day inside we laugh. myself, the cat and babby
the gloomy days of winter, stepping on spilt split peas
in the blood clot light, attacked by the charging cat