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, 14/25/36, 25/43/61 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.
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.
© Lawrencealot – December 18, 2012
Related forms: Bina
, Canzone, Decrina, Newman Sestina
, Ocarina – Rhymed
, Sestina – Rhymed
, Sidney’s Double Sestina