Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Weekly Writing Challenge--The Sestina

The Sestina is one of the more challenging forms of poetry. I've been trying to write one for quite a while now, with little success. But I hope this public forum will inspire me to really work on it this week!

This poem is made up of seven stanzas, the first six of which have six lines, the seventh having only three. There is a very exact pattern to the sestina's stanzas.

The first stanza is the defining stanza, and the six words that are used to end each line are the defining words, as they will be repeated throughout the rest of the poem.

In this template, each letter represents the ending word of a line:

a b c d e f (first stanza)
f a e b d c (second stanza)
c f d a b e (third stanza)
e c b f a d (fourth stanza)
d e a c f b (fifth stanza)
b d f e c a (sixth stanza)
a d (1st line of the 7th stanza, "a" must be in the line, but the line must end with "d")
b e (2nd line of the 7th stanza, "b" must be in the line, but the line must end with "e")
c f (3rd line of the 7th stanza, "c" must be in the line, but the line must end with "f")

Let me illustrate with a sample. The following is "Sestina of the Tramp" by Rudyard Kipling:

Speakin' in general, I'ave tried 'em all
The 'appy roads that take you o'er the world.
Speakin' in general, I'ave found them good
For such as cannot use one bed too long,
But must get 'ence, the same as I'ave done,
An' go observin' matters till they die.

What do it matter where or 'ow we die,
So long as we've our 'ealth to watch it all
The different ways that different things are done,
An' men an' women lovin' in this world;
Takin' our chances as they come along,
An' when they ain't, pretendin' they are good?

In cash or credit no, it aren't no good;
You've to 'ave the 'abit or you'd die,
Unless you lived your life but one day long,
Nor didn't prophesy nor fret at all,
But drew your tucker some'ow from the world,
An' never bothered what you might ha' done.

But, Gawd, what things are they I'aven't done?
I've turned my 'and to most, an' turned it good,
In various situations round the world
For 'im that doth not work must surely die;
But that's no reason man should labour all
'Is life on one same shift life's none so long.

Therefore, from job to job I've moved along.
Pay couldn't 'old me when my time was done,
For something in my 'ead upset it all,
Till I'ad dropped whatever 'twas for good,
An', out at sea, be'eld the dock-lights die,
An' met my mate the wind that tramps the world!

It's like a book, I think, this bloomin, world,
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you're readi'n' done,
An' turn another likely not so good;
But what you're after is to turn'em all.

Gawd bless this world! Whatever she'oth done
Excep' When awful long I've found it good.
So write, before I die, "'E liked it all!"

You can find some great tips on writing the Sestina at eHow.
Good Luck! If you succeed in writing a Sestina, please share it with us in the comments!


JohnR said...

Curse you, BiV, curse you for your compelling poetic gauntlets!

Bored in Vernal said...

You can do it, John!

EmilyS said...

BiV! I haven't forgotten! Except I've forgotten where I saved my sestina...if I can't find it, I'll have to do another one...eep.

EmilyS said...

Okay, BiV. I found it. And I hadn't realized how long ago I actually wrote it...I And therefore it's much more...19...than I remember it being. Still, here you go! :)

PS - The entire thing really hinges on the reader knowing the meaning of the word "caduceus."

PPS - I hope the line breaks come out right in this box thingy...

The Sixth Year

She watches Mother clasp her bracelet,
smoothing color across paper-thin eyelids.
Reading and watching, chin on the pillow
of her mother's bed, softness and strength
combine in her mind, but the mirror
sends a tear rolling onto her bookmark.

Pressing her teeth into the bookmark,
she watches Mother's flashing bracelet
gleam, the bulbs of the vanity mirror
lurking on the edge of her darkened eyelids.
She looks no more. She lacks the strength
to watch Mother comb from her hair the shape of her pillow.

No trace remaining of the hated pillow,
Mother turns and chides her about the bookmark,
taking it from her with a mother's gentle strength.
Having watched her mother clasp a bracelet
she will never take off, her eyelids
close over the image--refusing to mirror.

Mother stands over her--a mirror.
She gives a smile and fluffs the pillow
before leaving a kiss on each eyelid.
She marks her place with her bookmark
and presses some warmth into the bracelet.
This requires strength.

Mother has strength
to ignore the faltering mirror:
Undaunted by her bracelet,
unashamed of her dented pillow,
she places hope in a bookmark
and does not fear her heavy eyelids.

Mother's closed eyelids.
Mother's withered strength.
Mother's untouched bookmark.
Mother's imageless mirror.
Mother's hair on a pillow.
Mother's silver caduceus bracelet.

Curved mirrors rolled from her eyelids.
Trembling hands pillowed lost strength.
Unclasped bracelet. Lost bookmark.

Bored in Vernal said...

Emily, I _love_ it!! I can't believe you wrote that at age 19. And yes, I had to look up "caduceus." And I had to read it several times to really get it. It's really amazing. What is the significance of the title "The Sixth Year?" Is that the age of the young girl?