The sestina is a very structured form of six sestets (six-line stanzas) followed by a triplet (or tercet, a three-line stanza) for a total of 39 lines. What sets it apart, however, is the re-use of the final word in each line of the first stanza in a specific order that is different in each subsequent stanza. All six repeating words appear in the triplet as well.
The sestet is usually strictly metered and is commonly written in decasyllables, or lines of ten syllables each, but other formal structures are acceptable (see “Meter”). Rhyming is not a requirement of the form, but if the first stanza rhymes (i.e. a-b-c-a-b-c or a-b-a-b-a-b) , the balance will rhyme by default, since the rhyming words are the ones repeated. However, the pattern of rhyme will only follow the sequence of last words for each stanza.
The notation for the last words is “1” through “6,” for each of the six lines, thus the pattern of use is as follows:
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 2
Stanza 6: 2 4 6 5 3 1
Stanza 7: 6 2, 1 4, 5 3
The final triplet, using all six words in three lines, is a point in the sestet that can vary from form, using a different pattern (i.e. 1 2, 3 4, 5 6), or perhaps a couplet (two-line stanza, i.e. 6 2 1, 4 5 3). A rare format even ends on a haiku or senryu, utilizing the six repeated words in the accepted 5-7-5 syllabic pattern.
So, in the example below, 1=day, 2=cold, 3=place, 4=café, 5=hold and 6=embrace.
A Picturesque Café
Regardless of the time of day,
or if a tempest’s rain is cold,
my mind will wander to the place
where first we met, that quaint café,
when both our lives were still on hold;
we hadn’t had our first embrace.
The world had left me to embrace
a job I suffered through each day,
no inspiration taking hold,
relentless as a common cold.
But in this picturesque café
my life was never out of place.
I hadn’t known that in this place
I’d found a reason to embrace
my future and this old café.
I made my mind up on this day
that though the season’s turning cold,
the promise of its warmth I’d hold.
A notion started, keeping hold,
that there was something in this place
which bore the brunt of passions cold,
where many felt love’s kind embrace,
escaping from their trying day–
I’d someday own this aged café.
The atmosphere of my café,
an ambiance of which would hold
the patrons’ kindness through the day-
this would be the only place
to offer all a warm embrace,
a lively shelter from the cold.
Through summer’s drought and winter’s cold,
my friends would come to my café
to help each other, love, embrace
camaraderie, while couples hold
each other, like no other place
to spend their lives day after day.
I longingly embrace the cold
and greet the day in our cafe,
take hold of this, our perfect place.