The sestina was one of many forms of elaborate lyrical verse invented by poets who during the Middle Ages inhabited the Mediterranean coast of France -- the country known as Provence. All these Provençal forms were remarkable poetical stunts, calling for a high degree of skill on the part of the author and for great range and flexibility in the language, which must adapt itself comfortably to very severe requirements. But the sestina was something more. It became a form which was appropriate for certain ideas and which gave them peculiar dignity and beauty. While many of the other forms were forgotten, the sestina was tried in one literature after another, and after more than seven centuries it still proves interesting for poets of today.
The honor of inventing the sestina belongs to Arnaut Daniel, a Provençal author who flourished in the last quarter of the twelfth century. Concerning his life we know two picturesque but not very significant facts. He attended the court of Richard the Lion Heart, who later became the Crusader king of England. And he was a friend of the poet Bertran de Born, whom Dante afterwards pictured in Hell lamenting among the fomentors of discord and carrying by the hair his own severed head. In his poetry Arnaut treated the amatory