Cityscape: A Sestina

A sestina, according to Poetic Form: Sestina, is a thirty-nine-line poem form attributed to Arnaut Daniel, a twelfth-century troubadour.

The sestina adheres to a strict pattern of repetition, with five stanzas using the six initial end words of the first stanza in varying patterns. The final envoi (concluding stanza) consists of three lines (a tercet), each of which contains two of the six words repeated throughout the poem.

Also, the sestina generally uses iambic pentameter; according to, meter defines the pattern of the number of accents used in a line of poetry. “Pentameter,” then, means there are five accents in a line. Though this is a challenging poetic form to write well, with practice you can create some beautiful literary works using this method.

HINT: You can also “cheat” slightly by using variations on the different end words. For example, if your original word was “ate,” you could change that into “create” or “inflate.”

The end words can be represented by “A, B, C, D, E, F.” The pattern of repetition, then, is as follows:

1. A-B-C-D-E-F
2. F-A-E-B-D-C
3. C-F-D-A-B-E
4. E-C-B-F-A-D
5. D-E-A-C-F-B
6. B-D-F-E-C-A
7. (envoi) F-B A-D E-C

There are other versions that exist, but this one is the most common, according to Sestina. Here is an example, using these six words: walk (A), ground (B), side (C), air (D), feet (E), night (F).


Throughout the cityscape of blue I walk
And make each step a beat upon the ground.
I grasp the chill above and from the side,
To satiate my thirst for sweet spring air.
I cross this toughened stone with my bare feet,
Becoming now a creature of the night.

But what should I discover in this night?
This journey must be more than just a walk,
For it requires strength within my feet
To travel from this place to underground.
There I might hide away from midnight air,
And take a trip beyond the mere outside.

Now do I find relief once I’m inside?
I must discern the daytime from the night.
The darkness of this place must not impair
My ability to continue this walk.
Overwhelmed by fear, I cannot ground
My body, sinking slowly to my feet.

I realize I’ve sunk four thousand feet,
And notice now, too late, that I’m beside
A creature rising up from below ground.
I cannot stand to sleep in here tonight;
Somehow, I must regain my strength and walk,
Or I shall lose my final breath of air.

My desperation turns into despair
For I feel that fear has gripped my feet.
I find it near impossible to walk,
And pain is closing in on every side.
Yet I must have the strength of a great knight
If I wish to break beyond the ground!

In that moment, just beneath the ground
I detect the scent of city air,
Seeping through the tunnel, from the night
Which gives new motivation to these feet.
I climb again, and soon I am outside
Free as ever, ready for this walk!

The night, so constant, rises from the ground;
My weightless legs shall walk upon the air,
My feet take flight, with angels at my side.