How to Write a Sestina

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Writing a sestina poem requires creating six stanzas with six lines each and repeating the words at the end of each six lines throughout the poem. Find out more about sestina poetry, which was developed in the 12th century, with information from a writing instructor in this free video writing lesson.

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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Laura from and I'm going to talk about how to write a Sestina. A Sestina is a twelfth century form of poetry, very highly structured, and in this form there's six stanzas with six lines each, and the words that end each of these six lines will be repeated throughout the poem. The way in which they're repeated changes each stanza, and so this is a very highly complicated rhyme scheme, or scheme of the order in which they change. We're going to look at an example by Elizabeth Bishop, who's a poet well known for writing in this form. And, as you can see, some of the words that are repeated are house, grandmother, child, stove, almanac and tears. And these words will end each of the six line stanzas, and we're going to look at how...what that scheme is for how the lines change and repeat. So in the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, the first stanza ends with the word 'tears', and this last line is going to become the first line in the second stanza. Then the first line is going to become the second line. Now, the second-to-last line will become the third line, and then the second line becomes the fourth line. This one moves up one place...down one place, and C becomes the last line. Now, this is going to repeat itself, so then when... this F is now going to be called A, and you'll have the same format going forward. So it's going to look like F,A,E,B,D,C each time through. So, whatever has filled in these letters will go back through the same pattern. So, this last line here will become A for the next one. So you'll follow this same format all the way through, going through these same changes. And again, these are the same words ending each line. So at the end of your six stanzas there are three lines called a tercet, and those three lines are again ending with some of the words from your six stanzas and not in any particular rhyme scheme. And so you'll end up your Sestina with six stanzas plus three lines, all ending with the same six words. And that's a little bit about how to write a Sestina.


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