recovered: a sestina

Pardon me while I geek out about poetry for a minute. 

Today I wrote a sestina. I’ve been meaning to for ages. The form has always allured me. It’s challenging- if you google “most difficult form of poetry”, the sestina comes up as the first result. The inhibitive structure forces a poet outside her comfort zone. Also, W.H. Auden wrote a sestina called “Paysage Moralise” which I greatly admire, so for all these reasons I finally researched the exact form and tried my hand. 

Basically, the sestina is a fixed verse form comprised of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line envoi, or half-stanza. The words that end each line of the first stanza have to be used to end the lines of all the following stanzas, but they follow a specific pattern. The pattern of repetition is too complicated to explain here, but you can probably figure it out by reading below. The established form of sestina developed by Dante and Petrarch, and incidentally used by Auden in Paysage, is in hendecasyllables, so that’s what I used, but variations of line length are relatively common. The oldest sestina was written around 1200 by the troubadour credited with its invention, Arnaut Daniel- and maybe mine is the newest, though I don’t expect to retain that distinction for long!

Recovered: A Sestina

It was looking up that marked him a stranger
Walking alone and happy on the highway
Lamposts and old women watched him, wondering
How his footsteps made the snow a red carpet
And why he kept peering around him, almost
As if he hadn’t heard of the suffering

But how could he not know of the suffering?
The branches hung bare, pointing at the stranger
Reaching up to prod his scarf, he almost
Looked as though he knew, pausing on the highway
His brown hiking boots melting the snow carpet
He watched the branches; allowed their wondering

A grandmother thought sadly, He’s wondering
Why we all stay in this place of suffering
But she started and spilled tea on the carpet
When his face turned skyward, and, what was stranger
He stepped, smiling, toward the town from the highway
Irreverence! Not quite laughing, but almost

The wind began to climb; the clouds were almost
Snowing now, and all who saw were wondering
Why he didn’t know to keep to the highway
How he didn’t know about the suffering
But on he walked, serenely came the stranger
As snow flecked down to straighten out the carpet

And as he left his footprints on snow carpet
A grandmother watched him; tea fallen almost
Unheeded. Running free, her thoughts grew stranger
Faces came to windows, watching, wondering
Perhaps he doesn’t care about the suffering
He walked on as the storm obscured the highway

She could still see him when snow blurred the highway
One old woman with tea stains on her carpet
Went to the door and called through the suffering
Come in, you’ll catch your death! The wild wind almost
Blew her words into an abyss of wondering
But he caught them; the irreverent stranger

Shall suffering decide? Wondering village,
The highway left a stranger unsatisfied
And the storm has almost finished your carpet



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