Sestina – Swinburne’s Double

Swinburne’s Double Sestina
Structure, Metrical Requirement, End Word Requirement, Isosyllabic
Algernon Charles Swinburne developed the double sestina, a twelve-line, twelve stanza form with a six line envoi for the masochistic poet.
Not for the faint of heart or taciturn soul.
Attributed to:
Algernon Charles Swinburne
stanza 1: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
stanza 2: 12 1 9 11 4 7 2 8 3 10 6 5
stanza 3: 5 12 6 4 7 1 2 3 10 9 11 8
stanza 4: 8 5 7 6 4 12 10 2 3 11 1 9
stanza 5: 9 8 6 10 1 2 7 4 3 12 5 11
stanza 6: 11 9 6 10 4 2 7 1 12 8 5 3
stanza 7: 3 11 7 8 12 1 2 10 5 6 9 4
stanza 8: 4 3 9 6 5 10 1 7 12 11 8 2
stanza 9: 2 4 5 1 3 8 7 10 9 11 12 6
stanza 10: 6 2 9 3 8 1 7 5 10 4 11 12
stanza 11: 12 6 8 4 3 5 9 10 2 1 11 7
stanza 12: 7 12 6 3 9 11 5 8 4 2 10 1
envoy: 12 10/8 9/7 4/3 6/2 1/11 5
Rhythm/Stanza Length:
Line/Poem Length:
 A special thanks to Charles L. Weatherford for his work on this site which is always a dependable resouce.
The Double Sestina
This cannot, in all honesty, be recommended… it’s similar to a sestina, but has twelve keywords, twelve 12-line stanzas, and a 6-line tornada, making 150 lines in all. The only example I have been able to find is, heaven help us, a rhymed double sestina, by Swinburne. The keywords are: breath, her, way, death, sunflower, sun, day, bed, thee, dead, done, me (which gives you a fair idea of the flavour of the thing); so the rhyming pairs are (1,4) (2,5) (3,7) (6,11) (8,10) (9,12).  The structure is:
stanza 1: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
stanza 2: 12 1 9 11 4 7 2 8 3 10 6 5
stanza 3: 5 12 6 4 7 1 2 3 10 9 11 8
stanza 4: 8 5 7 6 4 12 10 2 3 11 1 9
stanza 5: 9 8 6 10 1 2 7 4 3 12 5 11
stanza 6: 11 9 6 10 4 2 7 1 12 8 5 3
stanza 7: 3 11 7 8 12 1 2 10 5 6 9 4
stanza 8: 4 3 9 6 5 10 1 7 12 11 8 2
stanza 9: 2 4 5 1 3 8 7 10 9 11 12 6
stanza 10: 6 2 9 3 8 1 7 5 10 4 11 12
stanza 11: 12 6 8 4 3 5 9 10 2 1 11 7
stanza 12: 7 12 6 3 9 11 5 8 4 2 10 1
tornada: 12 10/8 9/7 4/3 6/2 1/11 5
You may think you want to write one of these, but you really don’t, believe me. And if you should get it into your head that you want to write an unrhymed double sestina, you’re going to have to work out the structure for yourself.
It is with great thanks I applaud Bob Newman’s efforts on his site, and his advice in the instance.  I believe I shall pass on an attempt to write one of these this month. 

The Complaint of Lisa
There is no woman living who draws breath
So sad as I, though all things sadden her.
There is not one upon life’s weariest way
Who is weary as I am weary of all but death.
Toward whom I look as looks the sunflower
All day with all his whole soul toward the sun;
While in the sun’s sight I make moan all day,
And all night on my sleepless maiden bed.
Weep and call out on death, O Love, and thee,
That thou or he would take me to the dead.
And know not what thing evil I have done
That life should lay such heavy hand on me.

Alas! Love, what is this thou wouldst with me?
What honor shalt thou have to quench my breath,
Or what shall my heart broken profit thee?
O Love, O great god Love, what have I done,
That thou shouldst hunger so after my death?
My heart is harmless as my life’s first day:
Seek out some false fair woman, and plague her
Till her tears even as my tears fill her bed:
I am the least flower in thy flowery way,
But till my time be come that I be dead,
Let me live out my flower-time in the sun,
Though my leaves shut before the sunflower.

O Love, Love, Love, the kingly sunflower!
Shall he the sun hath looked on look on me,
That live down here in shade, out of the sun,
Here living in the sorrow and shadow of death?
Shall he that feeds his heart full of the day
Care to give mine eyes light, or my lips breath?
Because she loves him, shall my lord love her
Who is as a worm in my lord’s kingly way?
I shall not see him or know him alive or dead;
But thou, I know thee, O Love, and pray to thee
That in brief while my brief life-days be done,
And the worm quickly make my marriage-bed.

For underground there is no sleepless bed.
But here since I beheld my sunflower
These eyes have slept not, seeing all night and day
His sunlike eyes, and face fronting the sun.
Wherefore, if anywhere be any death,
I fain would find and fold him fast to me,
That I may sleep with the world’s eldest dead,
With her that died seven centuries since, and her
That went last night down the night-wandering way.
For this is sleep indeed, when labor is done,
Without love, without dreams, and without breath,
And without thought, O name unnamed! of thee.

Ah! but, forgetting all things, shall I thee?
Wilt thou not be as now about my bed
There underground as here before the sun?
Shall not thy vision vex me alive and dead,
Thy moving vision without form or breath?
I read long since the bitter tale of her
Who read the tale of Launcelot on a day,
And died, and had no quiet after death,
But was moved ever along a weary way,
Lost with her love in the underworld; ah me,
O my king, O my lordly sunflower,
Would God to me, too, such a thing were done!

But if such sweet and bitter things be done,
Then, flying from life, I shall not fly from thee.
For in that living world without a sun
Thy vision will lay hold upon me dead,
And meet and mock me, and mar my peace in death.
Yet if being wroth, God had such pity on her,
Who was a sinner and foolish in her day,
That even in hell they twain should breathe one breath,
Why should he not in some wise pity me?
So if I sleep not in my soft strait bed,
I may look up and see my sunflower
As he the sun, in some divine strange way.

O poor my heart, well knowest thou in what way
This sore sweet evil unto us was done.
For on a holy and a heavy day
I was arisen out of my still small bed
To see the knights tilt, and one said to me
“The king;” and seeing him, somewhat stopped my breath;
And if the girl spake more, I heard her not,
For only I saw what I shall see when dead,
A kingly flower of knights, a sunflower,
That shone against the sunlight like the sun,
And like a fire, O heart, consuming thee,
The fire of love that lights the pyre of death.

Howbeit I shall not die an evil death
Who have loved in such a sad and sinless way,
That this my love, lord, was no shame to thee.
So when mine eyes are shut against the sun,
O my soul’s sun, O the world’s sunflower,
Thou nor no man will quite despise me dead.
And dying I pray with all my low last breath
That thy whole life may be as was that day,
That feast-day that made trothplight death and me,
Giving the world light of thy great deeds done;
And that fair face brightening thy bridal bed,
That God be good as God hath been to her.

That all things goodly and glad remain with her,
All things that make glad life and goodly death;
That as a bee sucks from a sunflower
Honey, when summer draws delighted breath,
Her soul may drink of thy soul in like way,
And love make life a fruitful marriage-bed
Where day may bring forth fruits of joy to day
And night to night till days and nights be dead.
And as she gives light of her love to thee,
Give thou to her the old glory of days long done;
And either give some heat of light to me,
To warm me where I sleep without the sun.

O sunflower make drunken with the sun,
O knight whose lady’s heart draws thine to her,
Great king, glad lover, I have a word to thee.
There is a weed lives out of the sun’s way,
Hid from the heat deep in the meadow’s bed,
That swoons and whitens at the wind’s least breath,
A flower star-shaped, that all a summer day
Will gaze her soul out on the sunflower
For very love till twilight finds her dead.
But the great sunflower heeds not her poor death,
Knows not when all her loving life is done;
And so much knows my lord the king of me.

Ay, all day long he has no eye for me;
With golden eye following the golden sun
From rose-colored to purple-pillowed bed,
From birthplace to the flame-lit place of death,
From eastern end to western of his way,
So mine eye follows thee, my sunflower,
So the white star-flower turns and yearns to thee,
The sick weak weed, not well alive or dead,
Trod under foot if any pass by her,
Pale, without color of summer or summer breath
In the shrunk shuddering petals, that have done
No work but love, and die before the day.

But thou, to-day, to-morrow, and every day,
Be glad and great, O love whose love slays me.
Thy fervent flower made fruitful from the sun
Shall drop its golden seed in the world’s way,
That all men thereof nourished shall praise thee
For grain and flower and fruit of works well done;
Till thy shed seed, O shining sunflower,
Bring forth such growth of the world’s garden-bed
As like the sun shall outlive age and death.
And yet I would thine heart had heed of her
Who loves thee alive; but not till she be dead.
Come, Love, then, quickly, and take her utmost breath.

Song, speak for me who am dumb as are the dead;
From my sad bed of tears I send forth thee,
To fly all day from sun’s birth to sun’s death
Down the sun’s way after the flying sun,
For love of her that gave thee wings and breath
Ere day be done, to seek the sunflower.
Algernon Charles Swinburne


A monolilquie poem is a form was created by Gerald Bostock.
It starts, ends and is titled after a single word. It follows a mono rhyme scheme.
Each line is typically as short as possible, and the scenarios expressed become increasingly absurd.

Example Poem




Oh my,
he buys high,
corners supply,
sells higher by and by
in Versailles.
by the by
says Birds-Eye
is a buy.

Lunch, you buy-
no black tie
meat pie,
peas- black-eye,
then I
mince pie,
or shoo-fly
with chai
cus I
am bone dry
that’s why
tough guy.

Don’t sigh,
it’s July
in string tie
or bow tie.
Let’s drive by
fish fry
or  fly high
to Shanghai
on red eye
then try
pork pie.

Your tie
needs my
vat dye
or tie-dye.

Look guy,
that Thai
her thigh
shows high,
oh my
let’s buy.

Can’t comply
she’s shy
not nearby
sly deny.

Gone awry
I’ll decry.
blue sky,
wise guy
run by.
Well, hi

© Lawrencealot – October 2, 2012


The Paradelle is a modern poetic form invented by Billy Collins as a parody of the villanelle. Billy Collins claimed that the paradelle was a difficult, fixed form consisting of four six-line stanzas with a repetitive pattern invented in eleventh century France, and the press believed the story and ran with it.  Due to the extensive publicity, the Paradelle has made its rounds in the poetic community.  Even though the form was invented as a hoax, the Paradelle has taken on a life of its own.  It is still a difficult form, nonetheless, to practice which can be fun and
rewarding even though the inventor may not have intended it to be.

The Paradell Structure

First Three Stanzas:

The first two lines as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas must be the same
(repeat).  Where it begins to get difficult and become more of a poetic puzzle is when reaching
fifth and sixth lines.  These lines must contain all the words from the preceding four lines within
the stanza using them only once to form completely new lines.

Last Stanza:

For the most difficult piece of this poetic puzzle, the final stanza of the paradelle does not repeat like
the preceding stanzas, rather the final six lines must contain every word from the first three stanzas,
and only those words, again using them only once to form completely new lines.

The Design is simple:

Stanza 1: 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4
Stanza 2: 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 8
Stanza 3: 9, 9, 10, 10, 11, 12
Stanza 4: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Where the numbers merely indicate lines of verse, of any line-length.

Example Poem

A Paradelle with Ending Rhyme

When looking, a perfect calm descends
When looking, a perfect calm descends
You create a meaningful view with Paradelle tools.
You create a meaningful view with Paradelle tools.
A perfect calm descends looking, when you
create a meaningful view with Paradelle tools.

Upon  using the  form and  by watching fools
Upon  using the  form and  by watching fools
you made a sounding, as start .
you made a sounding, as start .
Upon  using the  form and  by watching fools
you made a sounding, as start.

That  as poetry
That  as poetry
ends quite  well.
ends quite  well.
That  as poetry
ends quite  well.
A perfect calm descends  upon  you
When you create a meaningful view
using the  form  by watching fools
looking, and  sounding,  as made with tools.
That  start as Paradelle
poetry ends quite  well.

© Lawrencealot – April 27, 2012

Sestina – Conventional

The sestina (less commonly, though more correctly, sextain) is a wondrous strange beast, the brainchild of a twelfth-century Provençal troubador. It doesn’t use rhyme; instead, it has six keywords essential to the poem’s structure. The poem’s 39 lines – six 6-line stanzas followed by a 3-line envoi or tornada – all end with one of the keywords; in the tornada, there are two keywords in each line, one of them at the end and the other somewhere in the middle. It may all begin to make sense if we try an example.
stanza 1: 123456
stanza 2: 615243
stanza 3: 364125
stanza 4: 532614
stanza 5: 451362
stanza 6: 246531
This is the prescribed order for a sestina – at least, for an unrhymed one. (Yes, there are rhymed ones too. This is a variation dealt with later.) No deviation from this order is tolerated.
However, there are several different possible orders for the keywords in the tornada (“tornada schemes“).
The popular schemes are 12/34/56, 14/25/3625/43/61 and 65/24/31. Pretty well anything goes, really.
You’ll notice that each keyword appears once in the first line of a stanza, once in the second line of a stanza, and so on. You may also notice that the permutations of the keywords follow a regular pattern. It’s all a bit like bell-ringing. Or mathematical group theory, for that matter.
At 39 lines, the sestina is eligible for poetry competitions with a 40-line limit. (Perhaps they used to have a lot of those in Provence.)
The greatest thanks to Bob Newman of Volecentral for this.  His site is an excellent resource.
My Example
Forget Me, She Said ( A Sestina)
I forgot to remember you had left.
Your need to grow required that you must go
find space unoccupied.  I neither made
you whole nor satisfied your unquenched thirst.
“Just forget me; go play and have some fun,”
You told me, “You’re a prize for someone new.”
I’d never even wanted someone new
and still did not, once you had really left.
My love for you, I should replace with fun
and sparkle like a dandy on the go.
“Just forget me; let hotties quench your thirst.
You’ll be the grandest catch that someone’s made.”
Attempts to dissuade you were often made
for weeks while you sought something somewhere new.
But only total change could quell your thirst.
And memories were all that I had left.
Without sharia law you’re free to go
and with it, holding you would be no fun.
Then, for my boys, I dated, and had fun.
I was astounded by the progress made
as I was learning dating on the go.
Once my small son asked “Will she be our new
mommy?” At least he’d realized you’d left.
I began courting with a new found thirst.
Forever buoyed by an abiding thirst
for laughs enjoyed when shared, my quest was fun.
I laid my love for you aside. That left
a vacancy and soon fresh feeling made
inroads to my reluctant heart and new
responses sang as guilt began to go.
Your leaving forced me to let my love go
as death could not have done.  So, now a thirst
was normal and not faithless search for new
absolution perhaps just based in fun.
When not allowed to keep the promise made
New love was deemed okay because you left.
The fact you had to go was never fun.
I hope you’ve quenched the thirst inside that made
you leave. I’ve loved in new ways since you left.
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Sestina – Rhymed

The Rhymed Sestina
The most important recognized sestina variant is the rhymed sestina, which was devised by Swinburne. Here keywords 1, 3 and 5 rhyme with each other, as do keywords 2, 4 and 6. The permutations are revised so that every stanza has the same rhyming scheme ababab. In terms of the keywords, the revised structure is:
stanza 1: 123456
stanza 2: 614325
stanza 3: 561432
stanza 4: 256143
stanza 5: 321654
stanza 6: 432561
tornada:  14/23/56
This is the structure that MUST be used if you write a rhymed sestina and
should NOT be used for an un-rhymed sestina.
Example Poem
Checking Your List       ( Rhymed Sestina )
I think today I’ll itemize our woes
then tomorrow I’ll pick out one to solve.
I can accomplish that much I suppose
if I approach the problem with resolve.
I’ll Itemize the problems in neat rows
then find the means to make them all dissolve.

All things that are soluble will dissolve.
If I can disassemble all our woes
I should find components we can resolve.
An ordered list is needed, I suppose
For surely world-wide problems I can’t solve.
I must therefore prioritize my rows

Put those deemed easiest in the top rows
A solution makes most all things dissolve.
A binding to insolubles makes woes
an aggregate resistant to resolve.
We must demote those woes I shall suppose
reserving strength for those we’re apt to solve,

Fixating on what we expect to solve
al lows us to dispose of early rows
and thus our will to win will not dissolve.
Our work will soon disclose imposing woes
Solutions will evolve, building resolve.
Some I’ll solve while in repose, I suppose.

I suspect there’s no reason to suppose
discouragement over those we can’t solve
won’t whittle our will, (and add to our woes).
Don’t add that to the list.  It will dissolve.
Wiggle your toes when progress slows on rows;
Think of Poe’s work or write prose with resolve.

Decide to ignore the list with resolve.
Some solutions one surely should suppose
will spring from things we’re not trying to solve.
At last unchangeables fill all our rows
World-wide differences will not dissolve.
Omit God’s will and nature from your woes .

I think the woes I know I can resolve
I’ll quickly solve forever, I suppose.
Concern for rows remaining will dissolve.

  © Lawrencealot – January 12, 2013)

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