I have mentioned that Swinburne wrote a double sestina titled “The Complaint of Lisa”; he rhymed it ababab, turning its stanzas into Sicilian sestets and increasing the difficulty of the form. I did much the same thing in a sestina-without-envoy – also from the series “Letters to the Dead” in The Gathering of the Elders and Other Poems. The italics in “The Dead Letter Office” indicate narrative rather than epistolary monologue as in “The Obsession” which is part of the same series and is not italicized. It begins with an envelope sestet that rhymes abccba rather than ababab, so of course unlike Swinburne’s Sicilian sestets this rhyme scheme changes as the stanzas proceed, although the rhyme words stay the same:
THE DEAD LETTER OFFICE
Our Hero has been writing to the dead
Because they have been coming to his room
During his sleep and cumbering his dreams.
They never speak, however, and it seems
That if he hopes to send them back to Doom
He must write missives which must then be read.
But how can he be sure they will be read?
He addresses them c/o Office of the Dead,
Stamps them all and sends them to their doom.
But have they been delivered, or is there room
For a sure and certain doubt? He sighs. It seems
There's nothing for it but to resort to dreams.
He goes to bed and enters into dreams.
He stands before a building made of red
Incendiary brick lost in the seams
Of cobbled streets. Office of the Dead
Is lettered on the door in runes of rheum
And flaking paint, as though the Day of Doom
Had cracked upon these boards. "Is this the doom
Of writing, then?" Our Hero asks, "of dreams?"
For he has forced the door, stands in a room
Hollow as any novel he has read,
Empty as any poem, and as dead.
There are no letters here, or so it seems
At first — but then an envelope that seems
To have been spared for solitary doom
Catches his eye — it is not for the dead;
It is addressed to him. Our Hero dreams
He opens it and reads. What he has read
He understands...but only in that room.
When he awakens in his own bedroom,
He cannot think of what it was he seems
To have understood in the epistle that he read
There in the cobbled streets where he sought the doom
Of letters full of silence, the sound of dreams
Echoing in the Office of the Dead.