Earth has not anything to show more fair:
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Never did sun more beautifully steep
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
In most sonnets, the sestet is not isolated from the rest of the poem with a line break. However, they are differentiated from the octave with the shift in rhyme scheme.
Sestet in sestina
A sestina is a French verse form that is made of six sestets, that is, six stanzas of six lines each and a three-lined envoi.
There is no use of rhyme in a sestina and no requirements for a consistent metric pattern. The use of multiple sestets is one of the only defining features of the form.
Envoi: A short stanza at the end of a poem that comments on the entire body of the poem.
John Ashbery's 'Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape' (1966) is an example of a sestina. Here is the opening sestet of the poem.
And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
Apart from the use of sestets, another defining feature of a sestina is that all the words that end the lines in sestet one are repeated as the last words of every line in all the subsequent sestets of the poem. However, the order of the words can be interchanged to create a unique pattern of repetition. The envoi must also contain all the six last words from the first stanza.
Sestet rhyme scheme
In general, sestets do not have any specific rules for the type of rhyme scheme and metric pattern they should follow. However, when part of a Petrarchan sonnet, sestets tend to follow the specific rhyme scheme and metric pattern unique to the structure of that particular type of sonnet.
Rhyme scheme: The pattern of rhymes followed by the words at the end of each line in a poem or song.
In a Petrarchan sonnet, the concluding sestet has the rhyme scheme of either CDE CDE or CDC CDC.
In the original version of 'Sonnet 227' (1839) by Petrarch, the traditional structure of a Petrarchan sonnet is maintained with the rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDC DCD. However, this rhyme scheme is lost in the English translation by A.S. Kline.
Octave and sestet
A sonnet is made up of 14 lines in total. The first eight lines of a sonnet are referred to as the octave. Meanwhile, the last six lines make the sestet.
An octave usually begins with the poet pondering a question or in a moment of doubt or unrest. Just before the octave ends, there is a moment of climax. This tension is then resolved in the sestet with a shift in tone. This tone shift in the middle of a sonnet is referred to as a volta. The sestet concludes the poem by reflecting on the poet's musings mentioned in the octave.
'On the Death of Richard West' (1751) is a sonnet by Thomas Grey.
The octave in this sonnet details the pain and grief experienced by the poet following the death of Richard West. The octave ends with strong words such as 'lonely anguish' and 'expire' to show the poet's suffering. However, in the sestet, the poet uses imagery that is much more cheerful and uplifting. This shift in tone is a symbol of new beginnings and indicates the poet's hope that he will soon heal from his loss.
Here are a few examples of sestets in their various forms.
'Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent' (1673) by John Milton
This sonnet by John Milton clearly shows the role a sestet plays in a sonnet.
In the octave of this sonnet, Milton details the struggles he was facing after losing his vision. He believes that being blind is hindering his ability to serve God and complete His tasks. However, there is a new voice that comes with the sestet that reassures Milton that God does not need 'man's work', and the best way to serve Him is to have faith in God and his will.
This tonal shift, or volta, is marked by the change in rhyme scheme while moving from the octave to the sestet.
'If See No End In Is' (2007) by Frank Bidart
This poem by Frank Bidart is a modern interpretation of a sestina with six sestets making the poem. Here are the first two sestets:
new, but the same. What none knows is
'Come Up from the Fields Father' (1865) by Walt Whitman
The sestet has no specific rhyme scheme or metric pattern. This shows the flexibility of a sestet, as it can be used in any poetic form.
Sestet - Key takeaways
- A sestet is a type of stanza or poem with six lines. It also refers to the last six lines of a Petrarchan sonnet.
- Sestinas are also popular for their use of multiple sestets.
- Sestets do not have any specific rules for rhyme schemes and metric patterns. However, in Petrarchan sonnets, they are written in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme of either CDE CDE or CDC CDC.
- In a sonnet, the octave presents the problem or climax, whereas the sestet resolves this tension.
- A few examples of sestets in poems are:
- Fig. 1 - Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Altichiero,_ritratto_di_Francesco_Petrarca.jpg