Poem of the Day: The Divine Comedy (Inferno V – Paolo e Francesca) by Dante Alighieri

 Francesca (Daughter of Guido I da Polenta of Ravenna) was wedded to the brave, yet crippled Giovanni Malatesta.The marriage was a political one; Guido had been at war with the Malatesta family, and the marriage of his daughter to Giovanni was a way to solidify the peace that had been negotiated between the Malatesta and the Polenta families. While in Rimini she fell in love with Giovanni’s younger (and still hale) brother, Paolo. Though Paolo too was married, they managed to carry on an affair for some ten years, until Giovanni ultimately surprised them in Francesca’s bedroom sometime between 1283 and 1286, killing them both

In the first volume of The Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil meet Francesca and her lover Paolo in the second circle of hell, reserved for the lustful. Here, the couple is trapped in an eternal whirlwind, doomed to be forever swept through the air just as they allowed themselves to be swept away by their passions. Dante calls out to the lovers, who are compelled to briefly pause before him, and he speaks with Francesca. She obliquely states a few of the details of her life and her death, and Dante, apparently familiar with her story, correctly identifies her by name. He asks her what led to her and Paolo’s damnation, and Francesca’s story strikes such a chord within Dante that he faints out of pity.

Soon as the wind in our direction sways them,
My voice uplift I: “O ye weary souls!
Come speak to us, if no one interdicts it.”

As turtle-doves, called onward by desire,
With open and steady wings to the sweet nest
Fly through the air by their volition borne,

So came they from the band where Dido is,
Approaching us athwart the air malign,
So strong was the affectionate appeal.

“O living creature gracious and benignant,
Who visiting goest through the purple air
Us, who have stained the world incarnadine,

If were the King of the Universe our friend,
We would pray unto him to give thee peace,
Since thou hast pity on our woe perverse.

Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak,
That will we hear, and we will speak to you,
While silent is the wind, as it is now.

Sitteth the city, wherein I was born,
Upon the sea-shore where the Po descends
To rest in peace with all his retinue.

Love, that on gentle heart doth swiftly seize,
Seized this man for the person beautiful
That was ta’en from me, and still the mode offends me.

Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving,
Seized me with pleasure of this man so strongly,
That, as thou seest, it doth not yet desert me;

Love has conducted us unto one death;
Caina waiteth him who quenched our life!”
These words were borne along from them to us.

As soon as I had heard those souls tormented,
I bowed my face, and so long held it down
Until the Poet said to me: “What thinkest?”

When I made answer, I began: “Alas!
How many pleasant thoughts, how much desire,
Conducted these unto the dolorous pass!”

Then unto them I turned me, and I spake,
And I began: “Thine agonies, Francesca,
Sad and compassionate to weeping make me.

But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs,
By what and in what manner Love conceded,
That you should know your dubious desires?”

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.

But, if to recognise the earliest root
Of love in us thou hast so great desire,
I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.

One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
Alone we were and without any fear.

Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o’ercame us.

When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne’er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein.”

And all the while one spirit uttered this,
The other one did weep so, that, for pity,
I swooned away as if I had been dying,

And fell, even as a dead body falls.

Original

Sì tosto come il vento a noi li piega,
mossi la voce: «O anime affannate,
venite a noi parlar, s’altri nol niega!».

Quali colombe dal disio chiamate
con l’ali alzate e ferme al dolce nido
vegnon per l’aere, dal voler portate;

cotali uscir de la schiera ov’ è Dido,
a noi venendo per l’aere maligno,
sì forte fu l’affettüoso grido.

«O animal grazïoso e benigno
che visitando vai per l’aere perso
noi che tignemmo il mondo di sanguigno,

se fosse amico il re de l’universo,
noi pregheremmo lui de la tua pace,
poi c’hai pietà del nostro mal perverso.

Di quel che udire e che parlar vi piace,
noi udiremo e parleremo a voi,
mentre che ’l vento, come fa, ci tace.

Siede la terra dove nata fui
su la marina dove ’l Po discende
per aver pace co’ seguaci sui.

Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende,
prese costui de la bella persona
che mi fu tolta; e ’l modo ancor m’offende.

Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona,
mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona.

Amor condusse noi ad una morte.
Caina attende chi a vita ci spense».
Queste parole da lor ci fuor porte.

Quand’ io intesi quell’ anime offense,
china’ il viso, e tanto il tenni basso,
fin che ’l poeta mi disse: «Che pense?».

Quando rispuosi, cominciai: «Oh lasso,
quanti dolci pensier, quanto disio
menò costoro al doloroso passo!».

Poi mi rivolsi a loro e parla’ io,
e cominciai: «Francesca, i tuoi martìri
a lagrimar mi fanno tristo e pio.

Ma dimmi: al tempo d’i dolci sospiri,
a che e come concedette amore
che conosceste i dubbiosi disiri?».

E quella a me: «Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
ne la miseria; e ciò sa ’l tuo dottore.

Ma s’a conoscer la prima radice
del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto,
dirò come colui che piange e dice.

Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.

Per più fïate li occhi ci sospinse
quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.

Quando leggemmo il disïato riso
esser basciato da cotanto amante,
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,

la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
Galeotto fu ’l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante».

Mentre che l’uno spirto questo disse,
l’altro piangëa; sì che di pietade
io venni men così com’ io morisse.

E caddi come corpo morto cade.

image by NegativeFeedback

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