The sestina is a poetic form that is believed to have been invented in Provence by a poet named Arnaut Daniel. Daniel was a member of Richard Coeur de Lion's court (Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionhearted) and was respected as one of the best troubadours of the time. Following Daniel's use of the sestina, both Dante (1265—1321), author of The Divine Comedy, and Francesco Petrarch (1304—1374), poet and founder of humanism, adapted the form as well.
Van Duyn employs this medieval form in "Memoir," using the end words "ear," "sound," "eye," "lose," "words," and "print." Though she stays true to the traditional pattern in the first six stanzas, Van Duyn improvises slightly by using words that are visually similar to or that contain one of the six original end words. For example, in the second stanza, she substitutes "loose" for "lose," and in the fourth stanza "print" becomes "voiceprint." In the fifth stanza, "imprint" replaces "print," and in the sixth stanza, "words" shows up as "Foreword." In the seventh stanza, Van Duyn breaks entirely from the traditional form in which two words appear in each line in the original AB, CD, EF order. She uses all six words in the stanza; however, she creates a new pattern with them. Van Duyn crafts the first line with four of the six original words ("sound," "ear," "eye," and "print") in the order BABCF, and in the second and third lines, she uses the remaining two words, "words" and "lose" in the order E, D.