The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/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, 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 Dîs aliter visum and Byron's translation of the episode of Franasca of Rimini, remained unpublished till it appeared in the pages of The Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, 1830, ii. 309-311.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.)




'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 sì forte,
Che, come vedi, ancor non mi abbandona.
Amor condusse noi ad una morte:10
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 cominiciai: 'Francesca, i tuoi martiri20
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.30
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:40
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 così com' io morisse:
E caddi, come corpo morto cade.




"The Land where I was born[2] 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[3], and me even yet the mode offends.
Love, who to none beloved to love again
Remits, seized me with wish to please, so strong,[4]
That, as thou see'st, yet, yet it doth remain.
Love to one death conducted us along,10
But Caina[5] 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;[6] 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 destinies20
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[7][8]
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.[9][10]30
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;[11]
When we read the long-sighed-for smile of her,[12]
To be thus kissed by such devoted lover,[13]
He, who from me can be divided ne'er,
Kissed my mouth, trembling in the act all over:40
Accurséd was the book and he who wrote![14]
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,[15]
And fell down even as a dead body falls."[16]

March 20, 1820.

  1. [Dante, in his Inferno (Canto V. lines 97-142), places Francesca and her lover Paolo among the lustful in the second circle of Hell. Francesca, daughter of Guido Vecchio da Polenta, Lord of Ravenna, married (circ. 1275) Gianciotto, second son of Malatesta da Verucchio, Lord of Rimini. According to Boccaccio (Il Comento sopra la Commedia, 1863, i. 476, sq.), Gianciotto was "hideously deformed in countenance and figure," and determined to woo and marry Francesca by proxy. He accordingly "sent, as his representative, his younger brother Paolo, the handsomest and most accomplished man in all Italy. Francesca saw Paolo arrive, and imagined she beheld her future husband. That mistake was the commencement of her passion." A day came when the lovers were surprised together, and Gianciotto slew both his brother and his wife.]
  2. ["On arrive à Ravenne en longeant une forêt de pins qui a sept lieues de long, et qui me semblait un immense bois funèbre servant d'avenue au sépulcre commun de ces deux grandes puissances. A peine y a-t-il place pour d'autres souvenirs à côté de leur mémoire. Cependant d'autres noms poétiques sont attachés à la Pineta de Ravenne. Naguère lord Byron y évoquait les fantastiques récits empruntés par Dryden à Boccace, et lui-même est maintenant une figure du passé, errante dans ce lieu mélancolique. Je songeais, en le traversant, que le chantre du désespoir avait chevauché sur cette plage lugubre, fouiée avant lui par le pas grave et lent du poëte de l'Enfer....

    "Il suffit de Jeter les yeux sur une carte pour reconnaitre l'exactitude topographique de cette dernière expression. En effet, dans toute la partie supérieure de son cours, le Po reçoit une foule d'affluents qui convergent vers son lit; ce sont le Tésin, l'Adda, l'Olio, le Mincio, la Trebbia, la Bormida, le Taro...."—La Grèce, Rome, et Dante ("Voyage Dantesque"), par M. J. J. Ampère, 1850, pp. 311-313.]

  3. [The meaning is that she was despoiled of her beauty by death, and that the manner of her death excites her indignation still.

    "Among Lord Byron's unpublished letters we find the following varied readings of the translation from Dante:—

    Seized him for the fair person, which in its
    Bloom was ta'en from me, yet the mode offends.


    Seized him for the fair form, of which in its
    Bloom I was reft, and yet the mode offends.

    Love, which to none beloved to love remits,
    Seized me with mutual wish to please
    with wish of pleasing him
    with the desire to please
    so strong,
    That, as thou see'st, not yet that passion quits, etc.

    You will find these readings vary from the MS. I sent you. They are closer, but rougher: take which is liked best; or, if you like, print them as variations. They are all close to the text."—Works of Lord Byron, 1832, xii. 5, note 2.]

  4. ["The man's desire is for the woman; but the woman's desire is rarely other than for the desire of the man."—S. T. Coleridge, Table Talk, July 23, 1827.]
  5. [Caïna is the first belt of Cocytus, that is, circle ix. of the Inferno, in which fratricides and betrayers of their kindred are immersed up to the neck.]
  6. [Virgil.]
  7. Is to recall to mind our happy days.
    In misery, and this thy teacher knows.—[MS.]

  8. [The sentiment is derived from Boethius: "In omni adversitate fortunæ infelicissimum genus est infortunii, fuisse felicem."—De Consolat, Philos. Lib. II. Prosa 4. The earlier commentators (e.g. Venturi and Biagioli), relying on a passage in the Convito (ii. 16), assume that the "teacher" (line 27) is the author of the sentence, but later authorities point out that "mio dottore" can only apply to Virgil (v. 70), who then and there in the world of shades was suffering the bitter experience of having "known better days." Compare—

    "For of fortunes sharp adversitee
    The worst kinde of infortune is this,
    A man to have ben in prosperitee,
    And it remembren whan it passéd is."

    Troilus and Criseyde, Bk. III. stanza ccxxxiii. lines 1-4.

    "E perché rimembrare il ben perduto
    Fa più meschino lo stato presente."

    Fortiguerra's Ricciardetto, Canto XI. stanza Ixxxiii.

    Compare, too—

    "A sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things."

    Tennyson's Locksley Hall.]

  9. I will relate as he who weeps and says.—[MS.]
    (The sense is, I will do even as one who relates while weeping.)

  10. Byron affixed the following note to line 126 of the Italian: "In some of the editions it is 'dirò,' in others 'faro;'—an essential difference between 'saying' and 'doing' which I know not how to decide—Ask Foscolo—the damned editions drive me mad." In La Divina Commedia, Firenze, 1892. and the Opere de Dante, Oxford, 1897, the reading is faro.]
  11. —— wholly overthrew.—[MS.]
  12. When we read the desired-for smile of her,—[MS. Alternative reading.]
  13. —— by such a fervent lover.—[MS.]
  14. ["A Gallehault was the book and he who wrote it" (A. J. Butler). "Writer and book were Gallehault to our will" (E. J. Plumptre). The book which the lovers were reading is entitled L'Illustre et Famosa Historia di Lancilotto del Lago. The "one point" of the original runs thus: "Et la reina ... lo piglia per il mento, et lo bacia davanti a Gallehault, assai lungamente."—Venice, 1558, Lib. Prim, cap. lxvi. vol. i. p. 229. The Gallehault of the Lancilotto, the shameless "purveyor," must not be confounded with the stainless Galahad of the Morte d' Arthur.]
  15. [Dante was in his twentieth, or twenty-first year when the tragedy of Francesca and Paolo was enacted, not at Rimini, but at Pesaro. Some acquaintance he may have had with her, through his friend Guido (not her father, but probably her nephew), enough to account for the peculiar emotion caused by her sangiunary doom.]
  16. Alternative Versions transcribed by Mrs. Shelley.

    March 20, 1820.

    line 4: Love, which too soon the soft heart apprehends,
    Seized him for the fair form, the which was there
    Torn from me, and even yet the mode offends.

    line 8: Remits, seized him for me with joy so strong—

    line 12: These were the words then uttered—
    Since I had first perceived these souls offended,
    I bowed my visage and so kept it till—
    "What think'st thou?" said the bard, whom I (sic)
    And then commenced—"Alas unto such ill—

    line 18: Led these?" and then I turned me to them still
    And spoke, "Francesca, thy sad destinies
    Have made me sad and tender even to tears,
    But tell me, in the season of sweet sighs,
    By what and how Love overcame your fears,
    So ye might recognize his dim desires?"
    Then she to me, "No greater grief appears
    Than, when the time of happiness expires,
    To recollect, and this your teacher knows,
    But if to find the first root of our——
    Thou seek'st with such a sympathy in woes,
    I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.
    We read one day for pleasure, sitting close,
    Of Launcelot, where forth his passion breaks.
    We were alone and we suspected nought,
    But oft our eyes exchanged, and changed our cheeks.
    When we read the desiring smile of her
    Who to be kissed by such true lover sought,
    He who from me can be divided ne'er
    All tremulously kissed my trembling mouth.
    Accursed the book and he who wrote it were—
    That day no further did we read in sooth."
    While the one spirit in this manner spoke
    The other wept, so that, for very ruth,
    I felt as if my trembling heart had broke,
    To see the misery which both enthralls:
    So that I swooned as dying with the stroke,—
    And fell down even as a dead body falls.

    Another version of the same.

    line 21: Have made me sad even until the tears arise—

    line 27: In wretchedness, and that your teacher knows.

    line 31: We read one day for pleasure—
    Of Launcelot, how passion shook his frame.
    We were alone all unsuspiciously.
    But oft our eyes met and our cheeks the same,
    Pale and discoloured by that reading were;
    But one part only wholly overcame;
    When we read the desiring smile of her
    Who sought the kiss of such devoted lover;
    He who from me can be divided ne'er
    Kissed my mouth, trembling to that kiss all over!
    Accurséd was that book and he who wrote—
    That day we did no further page uncover."
    While thus— etc

    line 45: I swooned to death with sympathetic thought—

    [Another version.]

    line 33: We were alone, and we suspected nought.
    But oft our meeting eyes made pale our cheeks,
    Urged by that reading for our ruin wrought;
    But one point only wholly overcame:
    When we read the desiring smile which sought
    By such true lover to be kissed—the same
    Who from my side can be divided ne'er
    Kissed my mouth, trembling o'er all his frame!
    Accurst the book, etc., etc.

    [Another version.]

    line 33: We were alone and—etc.
    But one point only 'twas our ruin wrought.
    When we read the desiring smile of her
    Who to be kissed of such true lover sought;
    He who for me, etc., etc.