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Poetic Forms: Sestina

Arnaut Daniel.

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The sestina is a poetic form attributed to twelfth century French troubadour Arnaut Daniel. It consists of six six-line stanzas and a three line envoy. The six end words of the first stanza cycle in a pattern thusly:


and an envoy whose form varies somewhat, but which uses all six end words:




How to choose your end words

There are doubtless many ways to choose ones end words One is to write the first stanza and then lay out the pattern for the rest. The other, the one I use, is to pick six words, generate the skeleton, and start writing. I try to choose words with more than one meaning and that can be used as more than one part of speech.

Here is a link to a sestina generator: Feed it your six words and it spits out a skeleton with the six stanzas and envoy:

Here is a link to sestina by Ezra Pound:


Here are the first two stanzas;


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.

Here is one of mine:


Workers, you are choked by the collar
of convention. Will you spare
yourselves? Will you ever tire
of the endless round of days, brave
the waters of controversy and refuse to play it safe?
Will you strike a blow

for self expression? Will you blow
down the artificial walls your white collar
has erected around you? Will you leave the safe
space you create in the spare
confines of your tiny cubicle? As you brave
each new day, do you ever tire

of the endless wheel of useless make work? The tire
of useless flesh grows round your middle. You puff and blow
climbing a single flight of stairs. How brave
are you? As you lounge, idle, the shirt collar
around your neck grows ever tighter, until there is no spare
room, and you choke. When will it be safe

to throw your old shirt away? What will jolt you from your safe
little life? What would be enough to make you tire
of the endless round of dailyness? Spare
yourself and live, not merely exist. Blow
the clouds from your eyes. White collar
workers, unite. Take a chance. Be brave.

Allow yourselves to brave
unknown waters, to give up your safe
small space, to throw away your collar
and try the new. Rise from your chairs. Retire
from the rat race. Overturn your desk. Blow
your boss’s mind and run from your office. Spare

yourselves. You have no spare
life. You have one chance to be brave.
You will never get another chance to blow
away the small, safe
walls around you before you tire
and are choked by your white collar.

You cannot spare yourself and stay safe.
Let yourself be brave. Throw away the tire
of convention. Strike a blow for life. Throw out your white collar.

Margaret Fieland

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6 thoughts on “Poetic Forms: Sestina

  1. Lin Neiswender on said:

    Margaret, I love your sestina! Let’s all rise up from our economic shackles! Will be trying that generator too.

  2. Pingback: Poetic forms: Sestina | Margaret Fieland: Poetry and Prose

  3. Love your poem Peggy, and it follows beautifully in the Poundian tradition. Really fun to try new forms as they often release new creativities.

  4. Oh, I love sestinas. They’re really, REALLY hard to write, though. Here’s a tip: It’s easier if you choose a word with homonyms or other words that sound very close. It will give you more flexibility.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Multi award-winning author of the Celebration series of chapbooks with Magdalena Ball:

  5. Sestinas are quite the challenge. I appreciate the tips for coming up with end words. Love your poem, especially the last stanza. What a strong conclusion to a powerful poem. Makes me want to keep trying to master the form. šŸ™‚

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