Francesca Of Rimini[348] - From The Inferno Of Dante.

A poem by Lord George Gordon Byron

Introduction To Francesca Of Rimini.

The MS. of "a literal translation, word for word (versed like the original), of the episode of Francesca of Rimini" (Letter March 23, 1820, Letters, 1900, iv. 421), was sent to Murray from Ravenna, March 20, 1820 (ibid., p. 419), a week after Byron had forwarded the MS. of the Prophecy of Dante. Presumably the translation had been made in the interval by way of illustrating and justifying the unfamiliar metre of the "Dante Imitation." In the letter which accompanied the translation he writes, "Enclosed you will find, line for line, in third rhyme (terza rima,) of which your British Blackguard reader as yet understands nothing, Fanny of Rimini. You know that she was born here, and married, and slain, from Cary, Boyd, and such people already. I have done it into cramp English, line for line, and rhyme for rhyme, to try the possibility. You had best append it to the poems already sent by last three posts."

In the matter of the "British Blackguard," that is, the general reader, Byron spoke by the card. Hayley's excellent translation of the three first cantos of the Inferno (vide ante, "Introduction to the Prophecy of Dante," p. 237), which must have been known to a previous generation, was forgotten, and with earlier experiments in terza rima, by Chaucer and the sixteenth and seventeenth century poets, neither Byron nor the British public had any familiar or definite acquaintance. But of late some interest had been awakened or revived in Dante and the Divina Commedia.

Cary's translation - begun in 1796, but not published as a whole till 1814 - had met with a sudden and remarkable success. "The work, which had been published four years, but had remained in utter obscurity, was at once eagerly sought after. About a thousand copies of the first edition, that remained on hand, were immediately disposed of; in less than three months a new edition was called for." Moreover, the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews were loud in its praises (Memoir of H. F. Cary, 1847, ii. 28). Byron seems to have thought that a fragment of the Inferno, "versed like the original," would challenge comparison with Cary's rendering in blank verse, and would lend an additional interest to the "Pulci Translations, and the Dante Imitation." Dîs aliter visum, and Byron's translation of the episode of Francesca of Rimini, remained unpublished till it appeared in the pages of The Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, 1830, ii. 309-311. (For separate translations of the episode, see Stories of the Italian Poets, by Leigh Hunt, 1846, i. 393-395, and for a rendering in blank verse by Lord [John] Russell, see Literary Souvenir, 1830, pp. 285-287.)


Canto The Fifth.

"The Land where I was born[349] sits by the Seas
Upon that shore to which the Po descends,
With all his followers, in search of peace.
Love, which the gentle heart soon apprehends,
Seized him for the fair person which was ta'en
From me[350], and me even yet the mode offends.
Love, who to none beloved to love again
Remits, seized me with wish to please, so strong[351],
That, as thou see'st, yet, yet it doth remain.
Love to one death conducted us along,
But Caina[352] waits for him our life who ended:"
These were the accents uttered by her tongue. -
Since I first listened to these Souls offended,
I bowed my visage, and so kept it till -
'What think'st thou?' said the bard[353]; when I unbended,
And recommenced: 'Alas! unto such ill
How many sweet thoughts, what strong ecstacies,
Led these their evil fortune to fulfill!'
And then I turned unto their side my eyes,
And said, 'Francesca, thy sad destinies
Have made me sorrow till the tears arise.
But tell me, in the Season of sweet sighs,
By what and how thy Love to Passion rose,
So as his dim desires to recognize?'
Then she to me: 'The greatest of all woes
Is to remind us of our happy days[co][354]
In misery, and that thy teacher knows.
But if to learn our Passion's first root preys
Upon thy spirit with such Sympathy,
I will do even as he who weeps and says.[cp][355]
We read one day for pastime, seated nigh,
Of Lancilot, how Love enchained him too.
We were alone, quite unsuspiciously.
But oft our eyes met, and our Cheeks in hue
All o'er discoloured by that reading were;
But one point only wholly us o'erthrew;[cq]
When we read the long-sighed-for smile of her,[cr]
To be thus kissed by such devoted lover,[cs]
He, who from me can be divided ne'er,
Kissed my mouth, trembling in the act all over:
Accurséd was the book and he who wrote![356]
That day no further leaf we did uncover.'
While thus one Spirit told us of their lot,
The other wept, so that with Pity's thralls
I swooned, as if by Death I had been smote,[357]
And fell down even as a dead body falls."[358]

March 20, 1820.

Francesca Da Rimini.

Dante, L'Inferno.

Canto Quinto.

'Siede la terra dove nata fui
Sulla marina, dove il Po discende
Per aver pace co' seguaci sui.
Amor, che al cor gentil ratto s'apprende,
Prese costui della bella persona
Che mi fu tolta, e il modo ancor m' offende.
Amor, che a nullo amato amar perdona,
Mi prese del costui piacer si forte,
Che, come vedi, ancor non mi abbandona.
Amor condusse noi ad una morte:
Caino attende chi vita ci spense.'
Queste parole da lor ci fur porte.
Da che io intesi quelle anime offense
Chinai 'l viso, e tanto il tenni basso,
Finchè il Poeta mi disse: 'Che pense?'
Quando risposi, cominciai: 'O lasso!
Quanti dolci pensier, quanto disio
Menò costoro al doloroso passo!'
Poi mi rivolsi a loro, e parla' io,
E cominciai: 'Francesca, i tuoi martiri
A lagrimar mi fanno tristo e pio.
Ma dimmi: al tempo de' dolci sospiri
A che e come concedette Amore,
Che conoscesti i dubbiosi desiri?'
Ed ella a me: 'Nessun maggior dolore
Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
Nella miseria; e ciò sa il tuo dottore.
Ma se a conoscer la prima radice
Del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto
Farò come colui che piange e dice.
Noi leggevamo un giorno per diletto
Di Lancelotto, come Amor lo strinse:
Soli eravamo, e senza alcun sospetto.
Per più fiate gli occhi ci sospinse
Quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso:
Ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.
Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
Esser baciato da cotanto amante,
Questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
La bocca mi baciò tutto tremante:
Galeotto fu il libro, e chi lo scrisse -
Quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante
Mentre che l'uno spirto questo disse,
L'altro piangeva sì che di pietade
Io venni meno cos com' io morisse;
E caddi, come corpo morto cade.

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