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The Last Song: A Sestina

Updated on October 21, 2016
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Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler with an interest in etymology.

The Last Song: A Sestina

Driving aimlessly, I see you in this rain soaked night

Fade in; fade out of my screen, wipers wipe like my memory

Car radio croons melancholy, a late night love song

My hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles hurt

Headlights blink, stare, shimmer, dazzle, whizz past

As I make my way, meander, where to, I know not

A constant sibilant whisper in my heart will not

Stop as the road ahead tapers into the night

The paths of my present flooded with the past

Rained with incessant torrents of your memory

Why tell, Why me, why now, why does it hurt

Is it the rain, the road, the hazy lights, or the song?

The words crawl up my veins from the song

Like an addicts fix, guilty pleasure, I want it not

I miss it, I love it, I hate it, want to stop the hurt

It brings, deep into my being every night

Is it me, you, or the whisper of your memory?

The road takes me backward into past

Recollections are always sunnier in the past

When you were my muse, my beat, my song

The edited highlights of my joyful life’s memory

I was infused, enthused, amused, I worried not

You took all of me in you, all day, and all night

The pleasure was intense, pure love does hurt

I can’t blame you, as I author my own hurt

I weep, knee deep, wallow in the flooded past

While sunshine wipes shadows, it’s the night

That engulfs and torments with its love song

I could seek the light, the crowds, warmth- not

Drive back into alleyways of my heart, my memory

I press down on the pedals, speed wipe the memory

Rush the car fast over the watery lane, the hurt

Coils inside as the song fades and ends, not

Completely, as it echoes in me from the past

This heart, this love, this thought, this song

I want them banished into the cursed night

The end of memory, as present collides with past

Searing pain blooms, hurt, shrill echoes of your song

I see you wave, not sure, as I fade into the night.



© Mohan Kumar 2012

The 'Ode' less Travelled

It is that English Treasure, the persistent polymath, Stephen Fry who uses the phrase 'Ode less travelled'. His words pithily capture the love hate relationship the poetry world has had with the Sestina. It has a reputation of being a harsh mistress. Demanding, strict, repetitive, seeking orderly chaos. While the structure can be confining to many, it is also strangely liberating. The rigid demands of the spiral make us reuse words to convey new thoughts and new messages.

There are those who hate it much. So much so it was rarely seen in the poetry world for three centuries since its arrival in English in the 16th century. any anthology that covers the period between the 16th and the 19th will not contain a single Sestina. While the sonnets and other forms enjoyed much following, the dark dominatrix of the poetry world didnt have much until the arrival of the 19th century when the English poets discovered its merits. It has since enjoyed a renaissance, even here in hubpages, as you can see from some great examples.

The Sestina Spiral

The Sestina Spiral
The Sestina Spiral | Source

...a Sestina ( or a Sextina/ Sextain) is a structured poem consisting of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each followed by a three line envoi or a tornada. The poem thus has 39 lines.

What is a Sestina?

Originating in the Romance languages, attributed to a 12th century troubadour Arnaut Daniel, a Sestina ( or a Sextina/ Sextain) is a structured poem consisting of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each followed by a three line envoi or a tornada. The poem thus has 39 lines.

The structure however is ( depending on how you feel about it) the magic happens. The last words of each of the lines in the first stanza ( lets number them 1,2,3,4,5,6) will have to be the same end words in each of the other stanzas in a varying , non repeating pattern. The table above shows how these word patterns repeat in each verse or stanza. The first line of every new stanza ends in the same word as the last line of the previous an then does a rotatory spiral. (see illustration above)

Thus verse two has to have the end words in the order 6,1,5,2,4,3 and so on. The envoi ( the last three lines) contains all the end words but each line has two of them, one anywhere in the middle and the other in the end. There could be a prescribed pattern to the envoi also, usually 1-3-5 or 5-3-1. The words 2,4,6 ( or 6,4,2) can occur in the middle of each line in that order.

Confused? Hopefully my poem above should illustrate by example.

Why I like the Sestina?

Call me a masochist, but I wanted to try this challenge ( and challenging it was!). The Sestina , due to its prescriptive formatting, is meant to help capture distress, deprivation or dissonance. It was used mostly as a 'complaint' poem or a call of distress. This served me well. For years I've been haunted by lost souls that cannot forget a lost love. The sheer helplessness against such a loss, the effect it has on one is hard to capture without descending into cliche. I hope my humble attempt above goes somewhat in capturing this distress...

Have a try yourself, dear reader. It makes you use thought muscles other formats may not!

Thank You!

Thank you for reading this poem and do leave some comments and feedback below. Please vote as appropriate if you like what you read.


© 2012 Mohan Kumar


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