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Definition:

The sestina is a challenging form in which, rather than simply rhyming, the actual line-ending words are repeated in successive stanzas in a designated rotating order. A sestina consists of six six-line stanzas, concluding with a three-line “envoi” which incorporates all the line-ending words, some hidden inside the closing lines. The prescribed pattern for using the six line-ending words is:

1st stanza 1 2 3 4 5 6

2nd stanza 6 1 5 2 4 3

3rd stanza 3 6 4 1 2 5

4th stanza 5 3 2 6 1 4

5th stanza 4 5 1 3 6 2

6th stanza 2 4 6 5 3 1

envoi 2--5 4--3 6--1
Like the sonnet, the sestina dates back to the Middle Ages, was adopted by the Italian poets of the Renaissance (Dante and Petrarch), and is often used by contemporary poets.

Examples:
A few classic sestinas are in our library here at About Poetry: See our sestina links to read more sestinas written in English around the Web.

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