A sestina is a structured 39 line poem consisting of six six-line stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

s followed by an envoi
In poetry, an envoi is a short stanza at the end of a poem used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem.-Form:...

of three lines. The words that end each line of the first stanzas are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. It is a 12th century Provençal
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

 form still popular today.


If the lines of the first stanza are numbered 123456 and we take the words that end the line, the line ending words of the second stanza appear in the order 615243. The lines of the third stanza end 364125, the fourth 532614, the fifth 451362, and finally 246531. These six ending words then appear in a closing set (envoi) of three lines (a tercet) with the first line usually containing 6 and 2, its second 1 and 4, and its third 5 and 3, but other versions exist.

What some consider a "double sestina" is similar in structure to a sestina, but uses a pattern of twelve repeating end-words, reordered through twelve stanzas, with a six-line envoi. The end-word order returns to the starting sequence in the eleventh stanza; thus it does not, unlike the “single” sestina, allow for every end-word to occupy each of the stanza ends; end-words 5 and 10 fail to couple between stanzas.


The sestina was invented in the late 12th century by the Provençal
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

A troubadour was a composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages . Since the word "troubadour" is etymologically masculine, a female troubadour is usually called a trobairitz....

 Arnaut Daniel
Arnaut Daniel
Arnaut Daniel de Riberac was an Occitan troubadour of the 12th century, praised by Dante as "il miglior fabbro" and called "Grand Master of Love" by Petrarch...

. Elements of it were quickly imitated by other troubadours, such as Guilhem Peire Cazals de Caortz
Guilhem Peire Cazals de Caortz
Guilhem Peire Cazals de Caortz or Guilhem Peire de Cazals was a troubadour of the first half of the thirteenth century. He was born or lived in Cahors, Quercy, from which his name "de Caortz"...


The oldest British example of the form is a pair of sestinas (frequently referred to as a double sestina), "Ye Goat-Herd Gods", written by Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

. Writers such as Dante
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

, Petrarca, A. C. Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

, Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

, Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet and critic and a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry...

, W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

, John Ashbery
John Ashbery
John Lawrence Ashbery is an American poet. He has published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. But Ashbery's work still proves controversial...

, Joan Brossa
Joan Brossa
Joan Brossa i Cuervo Joan Brossa i Cuervo Joan Brossa i Cuervo (Barcelona, Catalonia,(1919–1998) was a Catalan poet in the Catalan language, playwright, graphic designer and plastic artist. He was one of the founders of both the group and the publication known as Dau-al-Set (1948) and one of the...

, Miller Williams
Miller Williams
Miller Williams is an American contemporary poet, as well as a translator and editor. He has authored over twenty-five books and won several awards for his poetry. His accomplishments have been chronicled in Arkansas Biography. He is perhaps best known for reading a poem at President Clinton's...

, Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia...

, Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet. He has published over thirty collections and won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T. S. Eliot Prize. He held the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1999 - 2004. At Princeton University he is both the Howard G. B. Clark ’21 Professor in the Humanities and...

 and Joe Haldeman
Joe Haldeman
Joe William Haldeman is an American science fiction author.-Life :Haldeman was born June 9, 1943 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His family traveled and he lived in Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Bethesda, Maryland and Anchorage, Alaska as a child. Haldeman married Mary Gay Potter, known...

are all noted for having written sestinas of some fame.

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