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Encyclopedia > Sestina

The sestina is a highly structured form of poetry, invented by the Provençal troubadour Arnaut Daniel the late 12th century. It consists of thirty-nine lines; six six-line stanzas, usually ending with a triplet. There are no restrictions on line length, although, in English, the sestina is most commonly written in iambic pentameter or in decasyllabic meters. A troubadour was a composer and performer of songs during the Middle Ages in Europe. ... Arnaut Daniel was a Provençal troubadour of the 13th century, praised by Dante and called Grand Master of Love by Petrarch. ... (11th century - 12th century - 13th century - other centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 12th century was that century which lasted from 1101 to 1200. ... In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. ... Iambic pentameter is a meter in poetry. ...


In the five stanzas following the first one which sets it up; the same six words must end the six lines, in a strictly prescribed variation of order. The variation is this: if we number the six words that end the first stanza's lines as 123456, these same words will switch places in the following sequences-- 615243, 364125, 532614, 451362, and 246531. The six words are then included within the lines of the concluding triplet (also called the envoi or tornada), again in a prescribed order: the first line containing 2 & 5, the second line containing 4 & 3, and the final line containing 1 & 6.


However, there seem to be more variations on the order of the use of the key words in the final tercet. Jorge de Sena, a Portuguese poet, indicates that the first line contains words 1 & 2, the second words 3 & 4, and the final line words 5 & 6, in that order. The sestina by Philip Sidney, cited below, uses this order. Other sources specify 1 & 4; 2 & 5; 3 & 6. Sestina writers seem to have felt freer to alter this part of the pattern than the strict rotation and interchange of the end words in the six sestets. Philip Sidney Sir Philip Sidney (November 30, 1554 – October 17, 1586) became one of the Elizabethan Ages most prominent figures. ...


The oldest British example of the form is a double sestina, "You Goat-Herd Gods," written by Philip Sidney. Writers such as Dante, A. C. Swinburne, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Bishop are all noted for having written sestinas of some fame. Philip Sidney Sir Philip Sidney (November 30, 1554 – October 17, 1586) became one of the Elizabethan Ages most prominent figures. ... Dante in a fresco series of famous men by Andrea del Castagno, ca. ... Algernon Swinburne, Portrait by Rossetti Algernon Charles Swinburne (April 5, 1837 – April 10, 1909) was a Victorian era English poet. ... Rudyard Kipling Joseph Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936) was a British author and poet, born in India. ... Ezra Pound in 1913. ... Christopher Isherwood (left) and W.H. Auden (right), photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1939 Wystan Hugh Auden, known more commonly as W. H. Auden, (February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973) was an English poet, often cited as one of the most influential of the 20th century. ... Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979), was an American poet and writer, increasingly regarded as one of the finest 20th century poets writing in English. ...


Example

As an example of the way in which a sestina's end-words shift, below is a modern translation of the first two stanzas of a sestina by Dante Alighieri. Dante in a fresco series of famous men by Andrea del Castagno, ca. ...

I have come, alas, to the great circle of shadow,
to the short day and to the whitening hills,
when the colour is all lost from the grass,
though my desire will not lose its green,
so rooted is it in this hardest stone,
that speaks and feels as though it were a woman.
And likewise this heaven-born woman
stays frozen, like the snow in shadow,
and is unmoved, or moved like a stone,
by the sweet season that warms all the hills,
and makes them alter from pure white to green,
so as to clothe them with the flowers and grass.


"The Loss of Innocence", a modern example of an unusual rhyming sestina, by the poet Karl Stuart Kline, can be seen in its' entirety on his web site, www.scaredsafe.org .


How to

Another way to understand the pattern of line ending words for a stanza, given the previous stanza works like this:


If the words at the ends of the lines of the first stanza are A, B, C, D, E, and F


End the first line of the next stanza with the word from last line of the previous one, i.e. F. End the next line with the word from the first line of the previous stanze, i.e A. Next use the word from the last line not already used (E). Next use the word from the first line not already used (B). Next use the word from the last line not already used (D). Next use the word from the first line not already used (C).


This gives the final word order: F A E B D C.


Then take this stanza as the model and perform the same transformation to get the next stanza.


You can visualize this as kneading bread. Fold the letters ABCDEF in half. Take the second half, DEF, turn it over to make FED, and push it down onto the first half, ABC. When the two halves are pushed together, they make FAEBDC. Take the second half of that, BDC, turn it over to make CDB, and push it onto the first half, FAE. When you push the halves together, you get CFDABE, and so on.


In writing a sestina it is often helpful to choose end-words which can be used in more than one sense or in more than one grammatical form, e.g as both a noun and a verb.


External links


  Results from FactBites:
 
Sestina - LoveToKnow 1911 (445 words)
SESTINA, one of the most elaborate forms of verse employed by the medieval poets of Provence and Italy, and retained in occasional use by the modern poets of Western Europe.
Petrarch cultivated a slightly modified sestina, but after the middle ages the form fell into disuse, until it was revived and adapted to the French language by the poets of the Pleiade, in particular by Pontus de Thyard.
The sestina was cultivated in Germany in the 17th century, particularly by Opitz and by Weckherlin.
Sestina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (961 words)
A sestina is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoi or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines.
The sestina was invented in the late 12th century by the Provençal troubadour Arnaut Daniel.
Sestina writers seem to have felt freer to alter this part of the pattern than the strict rotation and interchange of the end words in the six sestets.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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