A sestet is a six-line stanza or poem. It is a form that does not require a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, similar to an octave. Poets can use any combinations of rhymes and meters that they want, or none at all. But, there are a few that are more common than others. The word “sestet,” or “sextet” is also connected to sonnet writing.
The Sestets as Part of a Sonnet
Sonnets are usually separated into two sections. The first is the octave, made out of eight lines and the second is the sestet or sextet, made up of six lines. When analyzing a poem, the first eight lines may be split in half so that you have two sets of four, known as a quatrain. The two sections might provide you with two separate, but connected thoughts. They usually rhyme ABBAABBA if the example is Petrarchan or ABABCDCD if it is Shakespearean.
In the next six lines, the sestet, there comes a new thought, separated by the turn. There are specific rhyme schemes that are more commonly associated with sonnet writing, but in the setset, the poet has more freedom to experiment. The most frequently used patterns are CDCDCD and CDECDE.
This turn is made up of a shift of some kind. It could be a shift in the speaker, the topic, the point of view, or anything else a writer can think of.
Purpose of a Sestet
A sestet is an open, yet contained poetic form that allows for experimentation within a boundary. Despite the length of the sestet, there are endless numbers of wonderful sestets that make use of all sorts of creative patterns. In regards to the sonnet, the sestet can be considered as the second half of a call and responds. The first part asks a question and the sestet, sometimes, provides the answer, or at least a new perspective.
Examples of Sonnets in Poetry
Example #1 Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
One of Poe’s best-loved poems, ‘Annabel Lee’ is a short, moving piece that taps into some of Poe’s most familiar themes. These include love, death, and the afterlife. Although not entirely made of sestets, the majority of the stanzas in ‘Annabel Lee’ follow this form. Here is the best known:
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
In these lines, Poe follows a strict rhyme scheme of ABABCB, as is common in his poems. A reader can also take note of other techniques like alliteration, imagery, and repetition that make this stanza so memorable.
Example #2 Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
This poem is made up of six six-line stanzas. Together, these are known as a sestina. In this poem, Bishop uses personification and a series of fantastical images to depict a grandmother, a child, and their house. This is a deeply emotional piece that uses familiar images to create a new narrative. Here is the first sestet:
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
The sestina is a special kind of poem because of the use of repetition. The end words in the first stanza, in this case, “house,” “grandmother,” “child,” “Stove,” “almanac,” and “tears” are repeated, in a different order in the next five stanzas.
Example #3 Sonnet 130: My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun by William Shakespeare
This is one of Shakespeare’s most popular sonnets. In the first lines, which are part of the octave, the speaker compares his lover, her eyes, and her disposition eyes to beautiful things. But, it doesn’t turn out well. She doesn’t have any similarities to the natural items he points out. Take a look at the last six lines:
Shakespeare loves a twist ending, and the couplet provides that. Rather than place the turn between the octave and sestet as Petrarchan sonnets do, the turn in Shakespearean sonnets usually comes before the last two lines. His love might be not outrageously beautiful, but that doesn’t make her less important or loveable to him. People do not need to have perfume breath to deserve love.