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What is a Sestina?

A complex poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a final tercet.

Six Sestets and a Tercet: A Poet's Puzzle

A sestina is a complex poetic form consisting of six sestets (six-line stanzas) and a final tercet (three-line stanza) serving as a conclusion.

The sestina is unique because it uses a complex pattern of repetition and rhyme. The same six end-words must appear in each stanza, but in a specific order that is predetermined by the poet. In the first stanza, the words appear at the end of the lines in this order: 1-2-3-4-5-6. In the second stanza, the order becomes 6-1-5-2-4-3. The pattern continues in this way until the final tercet, which uses two of the end-words in each line.

The sestina is a challenging form that allows poets to experiment with language, repetition, and structure in unique ways.

Sestina Showcases: Two Stunning Poems

Here are two examples of stunning sestinas worth adoring—each with its own unique style and subject matter.

Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop

Bishop's sestina is a melancholy, introspective meditation on loss and the passage of time—structured around the image of a grandmother's andirons.

A Sestina for the Ladies by Ezra Pound

Pound's sestina is a pointed, satirical critique of the elitist culture of his time, written in a staccato, sarcastic style that underscores his biting social commentary.