Reading can be dangerous

From The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, translated by Ciaran Carson

And I replied: ‘Alas! What kind of thrill,
what longing led them to the sorry pass?
And when did they their vital souls imperil?’

So I turned again to them, and asked:
‘Francesca, all your torments make me weep
with grief and pity, whether now, or past;

but tell me, did you wake, or did you sleep,
and did you sigh, when Love breathed in your ear
of secret joys, so dubious and deep?’

And she: ‘There is no greater pain I fear,
than to recall past joy in present hell;
and this is known by your overseer.

But since you want so desperately to dwell
on how and when our passion was begot,
then I’ll be one of those who weep and tell.

One day, to pass the time, we read of Lancelot,
who loved illicitly. Just the two of us;
we had no thought of what, as yet, was not.

From time to time that reading urged our eyes
to meet, and made our faces flush and pale,
but one point in the story changed our lives;

for when we read of how the longed-for smile
was kissed by such a noble knight, the one
who for eternity is by my side

all trembling kissed my trembling mouth. The man
who wrote this was a Galeotto; so was the book.
That day the rest of it remained unscanned.’

And while one half of this fond pair so spoke,
the other wept so much I fainted. All
of me was overwhelmed by that stroke

of pity; and I fell, as a dead body falls.


In his introduction to his translation of Dante’s Inferno, Carson also muses on the similarities between his Belfast and Dante’s Florence, among other things.


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