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The Sestina dates from the thirteenth century, and was in vogue in Italy as well as France, being used by Dante and Petrarch. Some writers claim for it the supreme place in poems of fixed form—above the sonnet even. It is made up of six six-line stanzas and one of three lines. There are only two rhymes throughout, and the terminal words of each stanza are the same all through, though in different order. Here is a beautiful specimen by Mr. Swinburne:
I saw my soul at rest upon a day,
As a bird sleeping in the nest of night,
Among soft leaves that give the straight way
To touch its wings but not its eyes with light;
So that it knew, as one in visions may,
And knew not as men waking, of delight.
This was the measure of my soul's delight;
It had no power of joy to fly by day, Nor part in the large lordship of the light;
But in a secret moon-beholden way Had all its will of dreams and pleasant night,
And all the love and life that sleepers may.
But such life's triumph as men waking may It might not have to feed its faint delight
Between the stars by night and sun by day,
Shut up with green leaves and a little light;
Because its way was as a lost star's way,
A world's not wholly known of day or night.