Considered a difficult form to master, the Sestina was created by Arnaut Daniel, a mathematician and poet in the twelfth century. It was later adopted by Francesco Petrarch who composed a series of sestinas he called Canzone.
The sestina is composed of seven stanzas. The first six stanzas each have six lines, with end word of each line falling in a precise mathematical progression. The seventh has only three lines which are a mathematical reflection of the first stanza.
The first stanza defines the following stanzas by setting the words used at the end of each line, ABDCEF are he defining words. They are repeated in the following five stanzas in the following pattern
The final stanza or envoy uses the same six word but only in three lines with the even numbered words descending internally and the odd numbered words ascending on the outside to give the following pattern
Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house