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Sestina (today’s poetry challenge)



My favorite poetry form is the sestina. I like them, I think, because they are incredibly difficult to compose and require a fair bit of calculation. This being National Poetry Month, I thought I’d challenge you all to write one. If you’d like, you’re welcome to share yours with us by sending it to blog[dot]oup[dot]com.

Not sure what a sestina is?

sestina [ses-tee-nă]    A poem of six 6-line stanzas and a 3-line envoi (or half stanza), linked by an intricate pattern of repeated line endings. The most elaborate of the medieval French fixed forms, it uses only six end words (normally unrhymed), repeating them in a different order in each stanza so that the ending of the last line in each stanza recurs as the ending of the first line in the next. The envoi uses all six words, three of them as line endings. The established pattern of repetition for the six stanzas is as follows: 1-ABCDEF, 2-FAEBDC, 3-CFDABE, 4-ECBFAD, 5-DEACFB, 6-BDFECA. The form was introduced into English by Sir Philip Sidney in his Arcadia ( 1590 ). Modern examples include W. H. Auden ‘s ‘Paysage Moralisé’ ( 1933 ) and John Ashbery ‘s ‘The Painter’ ( 1970 ). Even more remarkable as a technical feat is A. C. Swinburne ‘s ‘The Complaint of Lisa’ ( 1878 ), a rhyming double sestina with twelve 12-line stanzas and a 6-line envoi.

How to cite this entry:
“sestina”  The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Oxford Online OUP-USA.  15 April 2011  <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t56.e1046>


Happy writing!

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