The sestina is a poem made of six stanzas of six lines each, usually with three lines at the end to tie it all together. The last three lines are called an envoi, and can serve as a summary of the content of the stanzas, or as a commentary on the poem.
The most unique and defining feature of the sestina is that it does not need to rhyme, but follows a particular pattern in the last word of each line, and the six ending words are repeated in each stanza, giving the whole poem a cyclical feel. The usual pattern is as follows:
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
This cyclical pattern is the aspect of the sestina that interests me most, so I sometimes play with the other aspects a little, and I don’t always include the envoi.
Over time, iambic pentameter has become the standard for the stanzas of the sestina. It’s fairly easy to create, and sounds familiar to most people who like traditional English poetry, as most Shakespeare is written in iambic pentameter.
If you would like to know more, this Wikipedia article is quite informative, and has good visuals of the cyclical word scheme. That’s where I discovered that the sestina is often used as a complaint. I have yet to use the sestina for whining, but I suppose it could happen.
I really enjoy sestinas. If you’re inspired to try your hand at one, please let me know. This page allows pingbacks.