Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Maze of Dark Surprises     A Sestina Cycle

I'm lately experimenting with the antique poetry-form called Sestina. I find I favor a rhyming sestina. My first attempt at the form employs an iambic pentameter line, but the next several employ a shorter, trimeteric line. The 3rd is a doha-cadenced sestina. Only with the 4th in sequence had I gotten clear about a standard end-word pattern for the "envoy" (coda of 3 lines); for more about this point (and the form overall), see afternotes with my sestina no. 4.

1 |   "A maze of dark surprises"

2 |   "Amid the dark of night"

3 |   "Still are the shaded famished"

4 |   "The earthworm crawls"

5 |   "In this nocturnal street"

6 |   "Your universe"

7 |   "Difficult maps for living"

8 |   "Being's words"

9 |   "Seeking for poetry"

10 |   "Gavirangappa"

11 |   "A'buzz amid the summer"

12 |   "Vasu's computer"

13 |   "The final dance"

14 |   "If rhyme may recall the singer"

Working rather intensively with this form, I've written 14 sestinas in four days. I'm not yet sure if the cycle is complete, or if I may add more poems to it. If I do, any such additions will be included as further links here.


As is remarked (and considered in some detail) in the afternote for sestina no. 8, the first seven sestinas in the cycle all display a rhyme-pattern (in their first stanza) of ABABAB; -- whereas the pattern in the first stanza of sestina no. 8 is, instead, AABBAA. With sestina no. 9, a third end-rhyme is added, ushering in a new range of variation in the consequent rhyme-scheme pattern. Sestina no. 10 is the only one in the cycle that does not have much rhyming in it. Sestina no. 13 is the most formally ornate (what with its layerings of internal rhyming -- a rather baroque musical device with antecedents in, I believe, Persian as well as Medieval European and English practices of prosody). A differing pattern (again using 3 end-rhymes) is seen in sestina no. 14.

Perhaps if this series (and/or a subsequent series) persists through still more permutations of the possible, a range of other such patterns will be explored and exhibited each in turn. It seems unlikely that this particular terrain (at the interface of the sestina and possible rhyming patterns) has been heretofore mapped. Why? Quite simple: rhyming sestinas are more the exception than the norm. (I don't know why other poets have not seen the appeal of playing with rhyming in this form; -- unless there are some who've done so, and I've merely not yet seen their work.) If my speculation is not amiss, presumably the present cycle could claim the modest novelty of its formal rhyme-design investigation.

One trusts the points of literary interest in the poem-cycle may not prove restricted nor circumscribed to such bare, structural matters (these surface details of form). Still and all, I am passingly reminded of the inventive tendency involving a sense of mathematical systematics in Karnatic music -- which tradition suggests one model for comparison vis-a-vis formal invention. Of course the developers of abstract arabesque fretwork (or other such visual or architectural design patterns) obviously rely on a kindred instinct for design form and variation. Prosody is, one may say, an antique template for architecture. That is, the shared, underlying attention to structure and pattern can be arrayed either in space (with architecture or painting) or in time (with music or poetry). In any or all of these forms, the feeling of the kaleidoscopic maze can be enjoyed.

Ornate symmetries of archetecture may inspire ornate symmetries of poetry, and vice-versa. One may wonder in what ways Arnaut Daniel, in inventing the sestina (in the 13th cenetury), was reflecting (or reflecting on) the medieval design formalism emerging with the greaet Gothic cathedrals of Europe in his era. But I digress.


Blogger Max Babi said...

Hi David,
Very fascinating.
Having written countless limericks, I am tempted to try my hand at the Sesquina, I find the name itself saucy and bewitching. Very interesting form that challenges the creative instincts.
Thanks for posting here and later at Ryze too. You succeeded in roping me in.

Sat Aug 26, 09:27:00 PM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

Good Max --
although do note, the name of the form in question here is sestina; now that I think of it, "sest" must be from the Latin for six (six lines, six stanzas). It's a "sixer" meseems. The limerick may be a beginning, but I would not recommend as an end for formal verse! Also worth mention is the villanelle (among others). I'm lately hankering after the ballade too . . .


Sat Aug 26, 10:52:00 PM PDT  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

Very interesting, David. Here I can't even write one. And you have produced 14! Hats off to you. Will be back for more!

Mon Aug 28, 04:08:00 AM PDT  

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