The first time I heard of a sestina was when my daughter Sarah received a homework assignment to write one. I helped a little by suggesting a story from the Bible and then by contributing a few lines. This happened back in 2001 but I still remember fondly the time we spent penning those 39 lines. A sestina can be quite appealing to the mind because of the re-use of the six chosen words and the order in which they appear.
What is a Sestina?
With the help of Wikipedia I give you this explanation: A sestina is a highly structured poem consisting of 6 six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (three lines) for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata (“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6.
To make the sestina easier to follow I have numbered the lines where the six words appear. The words are Joshua, Jericho, priests, trumpets, days, and times, numbered respectively 1 through 6. The sestina is based on Joshua chapter six. Verses 1-5 are the word of the Lord to Joshua (stanzas 1 and 2); verses 6-7 are Joshua’s words to the people (stanzas 3 and 4); verses 8-27 is the conquest of Jericho (stanzas 5 and 6). The troubadour rules were strictly followed for the order in which the end-words recur. The tercet, the three lines at the end, contain the six words used in the six preceding stanzas which you shall see are not exactly in the right order. See if you can rewrite it so that it is.
The Conquest of Jericho
(1) And the Lord said unto Joshua:
(2) “I have given unto thine hand Jericho.
(3) Before the ark I want seven priests,
(4) Bearing rams horn trumpets.
(5) And this shall take seven days,
(6) And they shall compass the city seven times.”
(6) “When surrounding the city seven times,”
(1) The Lord continued to instruct Joshua,
(5) “The walls of the city shall fall in seven days,
(2) And utterly destroy the inhabitants of Jericho.
(4) By the long blasts of the trumpets,
(3) That shall be blown by the priests.”
(3) And the son of Nun called seven priests:
(6) “You will circle the city seven times,
(4) And blow the rams horn trumpets.”
(1) The Ark of the Covenant was brought before Joshua,
(2) And he told the people to surround Jericho
(5) Once every six days.
(5) And seven times on the seventh day.
(3) “I want armed men before the priests,
(2) And the ark to come behind when circling Jericho.”
(6) “When going around the seventh time,”
(1) Continued Joshua,
(4) “The people shall shout with the trumpets.”
(4) So the seven priests with seven trumpets
(5) Went blowing a full six days
(1) “And only shall Rahab live,” commanded Joshua
(3) So the people shouted with the priests
(6) And it was done only on the seventh time,
(2) That the wall fell down flat, for entry to Jericho
(2) The city was burned—waste was Jericho.
(4) Celebratory sounds of the trumpets
(6) Were made long and loud and many times.
(5) Victory feasts were the order of the days.
(3) Hailed as heroes were the seven priests
(1) Throughout the country was noised the fame of Joshua!
Gold and many (6) times the silver were taken that (5) day.
(1) Joshua said, “Cursed be the man that buildeth this city (2) Jericho.”
And the seven (4) trumpets and the seven (3) priests agreed.