How to Write a Sestina

The Sestina


Unrhymed iambic pentameter

Invented by Arnaud Daniel -end of thirteenth century

Six stanzas of six lines each and a three line envoi

Uses word repetition instead of rhyme, but repeated in a different order


Stanza 1: 1-2-3-4-5-6

Stanza 2 : 6-1-5-2-4-3

Stanza 3 : 3-6-4-1-2-5

Stanza 4 : 5-3-2-6-1-4

Stanza 5 : 4-5-1-3-6-4

Stanza 6 : 2-4-6-5-3-1

Envoi : 1st Line : word 2 in middle and 5 at the end

2nd line : word 4 in middle and 3 at the end

3rd line : word 6 in middle and 1 at end


Method for workshop:


1) Give each student an iambic pentameter at random, or let them find their own.

2) Each student produces a six line stanza using the same rhythm but not rhyming.

3) Arrange the end words according to the pattern above and attempt to fill in the lines, keeping the iambic rhythm.

4) Repeat until each stanza is complete

5) Envoi template to be given

6) Complete envoi.

7) Read out finished results

8) The original line could be replaced if not the student’s own.










Lines to be used:

These are taken from Shakespeare

1) Her blood is settled and her joints are stiff

2) Who can impress the forest, bid the tree?

3) We have scorched the snake, not killed it

4) Let every man be master of his time

5) For by the sacred radiance of the sun

6) Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say

7) Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend

8) ‘Tis now the very witching time of night

9) Oh, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out?

10) Show me your image in some antique book

11) When wasteful war shall statues overturn

12) Let this sad interim like the ocean be

13) I summon up remembrance of things past

14) If I could write the beauty of your eyes

15) A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass

16) When yellow leaves, or none, do hang

17) Earth-treading stars that make dark Heaven bright

18) When our sea-walled garden, the whole land

19) And they shall fetch the jewels from the deep

20) Come gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night

21) Take him and cut him out in little stars

22) Night’s candles are burnt out and jocund day

23) The vaulty heaven so high above our heads

24) For women are as roses, whose fair flower

25) The clock upbraids me with the waste of time





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