Sestina variations - standard

For the basic version, see the sestina. There are also some non-standard variations.

The Rhymed Sestina

The most important recognised sestina variant is the rhymed sestina, which was devised by Swinburne. Here keywords 1, 3 and 5 rhyme with each other, as do keywords 2, 4 and 6. The permutations are revised so that every stanza has the same rhyming scheme ababab. In terms of the keywords, the revised structure is:

stanza 1: 123456

stanza 2: 614325

stanza 3: 561432

stanza 4: 256143

stanza 5: 321654

stanza 6: 432561

tornada:  14/23/56

This revision of the structure leaves the rhymed sestina relatively unappealing to group theorists or (presumably) bell-ringers.

NB This structure is only "correct" if your keywords rhyme as stipulated above. For an unrhymed sestina, you must use the structure described on the main sestina page. In an ideal world this would not matter, but be warned - I once wrote an unrhymed sestina The Suicidal Goldfish for which I mistakenly used the structure of a rhymed sestina. That mistake was enough for one of the UK's better poetry magazines to decide not to publish it after all!

The Double Sestina

This cannot, in all honesty, be recommended... it's similar to a sestina, but has twelve keywords, twelve 12-line stanzas, and a 6-line tornada, making 150 lines in all. The only example I have been able to find is, heaven help us, a rhymed double sestina, by Swinburne. The keywords are: breath, her, way, death, sunflower, sun, day, bed, thee, dead, done, me (which gives you a fair idea of the flavour of the thing); so the rhyming pairs are (1,4) (2,5) (3,7) (6,11) (8,10) (9,12).  The structure is:

stanza 1: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

stanza 2: 12 1 9 11 4 7 2 8 3 10 6 5

stanza 3: 5 12 6 4 7 1 2 3 10 9 11 8

stanza 4: 8 5 7 6 4 12 10 2 3 11 1 9

stanza 5: 9 8 6 10 1 2 7 4 3 12 5 11

stanza 6: 11 9 6 10 4 2 7 1 12 8 5 3

stanza 7: 3 11 7 8 12 1 2 10 5 6 9 4

stanza 8: 4 3 9 6 5 10 1 7 12 11 8 2

stanza 9: 2 4 5 1 3 8 7 10 9 11 12 6

stanza 10: 6 2 9 3 8 1 7 5 10 4 11 12

stanza 11: 12 6 8 4 3 5 9 10 2 1 11 7

stanza 12: 7 12 6 3 9 11 5 8 4 2 10 1

tornada: 12 10/8 9/7 4/3 6/2 1/11 5

You may think you want to write one of these, but you really don't, believe me. And if you should get it into your head that you want to write an unrhymed double sestina, you're going to have to work out the structure for yourself.

Notable examples

Algernon Charles Swinburne was responsible for the rhymed double sestina mentioned above, which is called The Complaint of Lisa. In fact, he seems to have been responsible for a great deal in this area.

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Bob Newman 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 16/02/2007