The Damned


This is a translation of an episode from Dante’s Inferno when Dante meets the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Many poets have translated this episode. It’s fascinating because Dante portrays the lovers with such sympathy, despite having placed them in hell for their sin of adultery. A further irony is that poetry is to blame for their sin. In these lines Francesca explains to Dante how she came to be damned.

The Damned

The bitterest
sorrow is not regret,
though that is part of what we suffer –
the bitterest sorrow lies in happiness rehearsed,
as when I speak of how
our fate took root.

It was a poem:
the ballad of Sir Lancelot
whom love enslaved – old fashioned stuff,
pure nonsense really, so where was the danger if
from time to time our eyes met –
where was the harm?

We read on
until we reached the line
about a kiss both looked-for and unbidden –
a kiss so long desired and yet so lightly taken –
that line was our undoing:
a sidelong

glance – another –
into each other?s eyes, and we,
who since that day have never been apart,
we latecomers to everything within our hearts,
we put the book away
and read no further.

uncollected poem, copyright © Paul Batchelor 2009, used by permission of the author

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