A sestina is an elaborate verse form employed by medieval Provençal and Italian, and occasional modern, poets. It consists, in its pure medieval form, of six stanzas of blank verse, each of six lines—hence the name. The final words of the first stanza appear in varied order in the other five, the order used by the Provençals being: abcdef, faebdc, cfdabe, ecbfad, deacfb, bdfeca. Following these was a stanza of three lines, in which the six key words were repeated in the middle and at the end of the lines, summarizing the poem or dedicating it to some person.
I have been thinking for ages of trying to write a sestina, but thought it would be too difficult. In the event, it turns out to be no more difficult than doing a crossword puzzle (although, as you will see, my envoi – the three-line stanza that ends it – doesn’t quite accord with the rules); but the tricky bit is observing the form while still saying something worth saying. I hope that this was worth saying:
I shall write you a fucking sestina and you still won’t care.
I shall stare at the laptop waiting for your answer.
After a week you will send me a one-line e-mail:
I like it! a smiley face and a single kiss
Is all I will get for my outpouring of love.
Do you wonder that I am bitter and your slave?
You cannot – or can you? – have wanted me for your slave.
Even if you knew what I felt, and didn’t care
You must have known that everything I write about love
Is addressed to you, and’s for you to answer;
Yet all I receive is a hug and a chaste kiss,
A tardy, unwilling reply to my passionate e-mail.
I wish I could write you a letter instead of an e-mail.
The list of emojis doesn’t have one for ‘slave’,
And there’s no weight of meaning in typing an ‘x’ for a kiss.
Between the lines I can tell you how much I care,
But not enough for you to have to answer
In words that have anything at all to do with love.
And that’s that. I’ve had enough of writing about love –
Writing to myself (even though I send you the e-mail).
I have no question waiting for an answer.
All I have’s this sestina over which I slave;
And I wonder sometimes if it is this I care
More about than getting from you a tender kiss.
But my heart aches still when I dream about that kiss
And of you, and of begging you for your love;
And I wonder if I have taken too much care
Not to hurt you with what I write in the e-mail:
Romantic love, like this tricky form, can make a slave
Of anyone who can’t find an easy answer.
O love! O Love! tell me, tell me the answer.
Is it that simple- to want no more than a kiss?
Would that free me to be your equal, no longer your slave?
Would I know at last what it means to love,
To please you, to be kind, forget the bloody e-mail;
To forget the pangs of passion and truly care?
Answer me, dear, and, I beg you, in words of love.
Kiss your poor slave who sends you this e-mail.
I press ‘send’ and place this poor verse in your care.