Dante, Inferno Canto V, excerpt

Dante, led by the soul of the poet, Virgil, seeks God by a long pilgrimage through

Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.  Here, he enters the circle of those who died in the sin of Lust,

including his late Florentine contemporaries, Francesca da Rimini and her brother-in-law.

Now the woeful notes begin to make themselves heard; now am I
come where much lamentation smites me. I had come into a place
mute of all light, that bellows as the sea does in a tempest, if
it be combated by opposing winds. The infernal hurricane that
never rests carries along the spirits in its rapine; whirling and
smiting it molests them. When they arrive before its rushing
blast, here are shrieks, and bewailing, and lamenting; here they
blaspheme the power divine. I understood that to such torment are
condemned the carnal sinners who subject reason to appetite. And
as their wings bear along the starlings in the cold season in a
troop large and full, so that blast the evil spirits; hither,
thither, down, up it carries them; no hope ever comforts them,
not of repose, but even of less pain.

And as the cranes go singing their lays, making in air a long
line of themselves, so saw I come, uttering wails, shades borne
along by the aforesaid strife. Wherefore I said, "Master, who are
those folk whom the black air so castigates?" "The first of these
of whom thou wishest to have knowledge," said he to me then, "was
empress of many tongues. To the vice of luxury was she so
abandoned that lust she made licit in her law, to take away the
blame she had incurred. She is Semiramis, of whom it is read that
she succeeded Ninus and had been his spouse; she held the land
which the Soldan rules. That other is she who, for love, killed
herself, and broke faith to the ashes of Sichaeus. Next is
Cleopatra, the luxurious. See Helen, for whom so long a time of
ill revolved; and see the great Achilles, who at the end fought
with love. See Paris, Tristan,--" and more than a thousand shades
he showed me with his finger, and named them, whom love had
parted from our life.

After I had heard my Teacher name the dames of eld and the
cavaliers, pity overcame me, and I was well nigh bewildered. I
began, "Poet, willingly would I speak with those two that go
together, and seem to be so light upon the wind." And he to me,
"Thou shalt see when they shall be nearer to us, and do thou then
pray them by that love which leads them, and they will come."
Soon as the wind sways them toward us I lifted my voice, "O weary
souls, come speak to us, if One forbid it not."

As doves, called by desire, with wings open and steady, fly
through the air to their sweet nest, borne by their will, these
issued from the troop where Dido is, coming to us through the
malign air, so strong was the compassionate cry.

"O living creature, gracious and benign, that goest through the
lurid air visiting us who stained the world blood-red,--if the
King of the universe were a friend we would pray Him for thy
peace, since thou hast pity on our perverse ill. Of what it
pleaseth thee to hear, and what to speak, we will hear and we
will speak to you, while the wind, as now, is hushed for us. The
city where I was born sits upon the sea-shore, where the Po, with
its followers, descends to have peace. Love, that on gentle heart
quickly lays hold
, seized him for the fair person that was taken
from me, and the mode still hurts me. Love, which absolves no
loved one from loving, seized me for the pleasing of him so
strongly that, as thou seest, it does not even now abandon me.
Love brought us to one death. Caina awaits him who quenched our
life." These words were borne to us from them.

Soon as I had heard those injured souls I bowed my face, and held
it down, until the Poet said to me, "What art thou thinking?"
When I replied, I began, "Alas! how many sweet thoughts, how
great desire, led these unto the woeful pass." Then I turned me
again to them, and I spoke, and began, "Francesca, thy torments
make me sad and piteous to weeping. But tell me, at the time of
the sweet sighs by what and how did love concede to you to know
the dubious desires?" And she to me, "There is no greater woe
than in misery to remember the happy time, and that thy Teacher
knows. But if to know the first root of our love thou hast so
great a longing, I will do like one who weeps and tells.

"We were rending one day, for delight, of Lancelot, how love
constrained him. We were alone and without any suspicion. Many
times that reading made us lift our eyes, and took the color from
our faces, but only one point was that which overcame us. When we
read of the longed-for smile being kissed by such a lover, this
one, who never from me shall be divided, kissed my mouth all
trembling. Galahaut was the book, and he who wrote it. That day
we read in it no farther."[1]

While one spirit said this the other was weeping so that through
pity I swooned, as if I had been dying, and fell as a dead body

[1] In the Romance, it was Galahaut that prevailed on Guinevere
to give a kiss to Lancelot [after first conspiring to bring the lovers together].

To read all or part of the Divina Comedia, either in English translation or in the original Italian, click here.