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Sestina

A complex French verse form, usually unrhymed, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy. The end words of the first stanza are repeated in a different order as end words in each of the subsequent five stanzas; the closing envoy contains all six words, two per line, placed in the middle and at the end of the three lines. The patterns of word repetition are as follows, with each number representing the final word of a line, and each row of numbers representing a stanza:

          1 2 3 4 5 6
          6 1 5 2 4 3
          3 6 4 1 2 5
          5 3 2 6 1 4
          4 5 1 3 6 2
          2 4 6 5 3 1
          (6 2) (1 4) (5 3)

See Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “The Complaint of Lisa," John Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape," and David Ferry’s “The Guest Ellen at the Supper for Street People." Browse more sestinas.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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