Have you ever heard of a sestina?
No, a sestina is not a waitress who serves sauces at fancy dinners, nor is it a medieval stringed instrument similar to the lute. A sestina is, in fact, a specific form of poetry.
Did you know that? I didn’t know that either until I started taking a university-level poetry writing class, since that is one of the many things that creative writing majors do with their time in college. They write poetry, or poetic things, or both simultaneously.
The sestina is the poetic equivalent to advanced trigonometry. The unique feature of the sestina is not its rhyme or meter, but the order of the words at the end of each line. For example: the end word of line 1 in the first stanza becomes the end-word of the second line of the second stanza, while the sixth line’s end-word in the first stanza become the first line’s end-word in the second stanza. As to the rest of the pattern, it is no less confusing, and my text book only offered a not-so-helpful “etc.” to describe the way the rest of the end-words are supposed to interact.
Guess what we had to write this week for poetry class this week? You got it—a sestina.
Now, considering it’s February (we all know what happens in February) and I have been assigned to write a poem, there is really only one logical path to take in terms of the poem’s subject matter. That’s right. I wrote about Odysseus. I’m four weeks into studying classical literature—what else is there to think about?
So here you are: my first meager sestina. It will be revised to the point of being unrecognizable in a week’s time, but accomplishing the first draft is quite enough for me. At least until the final draft is due.
Surrounded by the ocean’s hungry roar
I wait, yearning for a raft on which to sail
Away, to find my lovely island home.
But the Lady of Deception holds me back
Though she promises my life will never end,
I think of Her, who waits at home, and my joy dies.
Waiting on this island where death dies,
The hungry heart within me starts to roar.
For here is where all valor meets its end:
A horseless chariot, a ship without a sail
Am I, without an army at my back.
Adrift am I, an eternity from home.
Asleep at night, my dreaming wanders home.
I hear my bride sing gentle melodies
While she deftly pulls the shuttle forward, back.
Our cups all overflow, and fires roar;
I think no thought of ever setting sail—
Awake again, my dreaming doesn’t end.
My keeper here, she says she is my friend
(Twisted friendship, keeping me from home).
Determined that she will not let me sail,
She hopes to starve my yearning ‘till it dies.
Out there, she says, the monstrous maelstroms roar,
And peace is here. Why bother to go back?
But every word she whispers takes me back
Along a road of memories without end.
My cries at night become an angry roar
Demanding for a ship, a journey home.
I’m weary of her empty comedies,
This phony paradise, sensations that assail.
My hope lives still. I know that I will sail.
My patient bride will see me coming back.
I’ll perish only when my last hope dies,
Then only will my weary battle end.
Hope and Fortune’s winds will take me home.
Let thunder crash! Let monsters roar!
Long though I sail, I’ll reach my journey’s end.
Her memory calls me back. Hold on, I’m coming home!
Far from these tragedies; far from the ocean’s roar.