Tchaikovsky wrote his symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini during the year 1876.  He had just read the fifth canto of Dante’s Hell, the very one about Paolo and Francesca.  He had read it on the train while travelling to Bayreuth where he would, of course, have listened to Wagner’s music.  Tchaikovsky did not like Wagner much but, after having read Dante’s verses about Francesca da Rimini, he was seized by a real, uncontainable craving – it is he himself who says so – to dedicate a symphonic poem to her.  He wrote it at once, effortlessly, while Wagner’s music was still ringing in his ears and, indeed, connoisseurs of classical music perceive here and there a vague Wagnerian influence.

Tchaikovsky was very fond of Italy and also knew its language, but not to the degree that he could easily read the Divine Comedy only in the original.  However, luckily for him (and us) the Divine Comedy had already been translated into many languages, including Russian.  So Tchaikovsky, in that memorable train journey, was able to read and understand the original verses of Francesca da Rimini thanks also to the valuable assistance of Dr Dmitry Yegorovich Min who had, in 1855, published his translation of Hell into Russian in tercets.  Tchaikovsky, armed with Dante’s original and Min’s translation, was able to take advantage of the very long journey to savour those verses to the full.

Dmitry Yegorovich Min (1818-1885) was a truly versatile person; he was a professor of legal medicine at the University of Moscow, but also translated a number of classical works into Russian from a variety of languages.  He was the first Russian translator to attempt Dante, although his verse translation of the whole of the Divine Comedy was only published posthumously, in 1907, the year in which the translation was also awarded the Pushkin Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in tsarist Russia.

The verses about Francesca da Rimini in Dmitry Min’s translation into tercets were, however, published far earlier in 1843 when Canto V of Hell appeared in preview in the literary periodical Moskvitjanin (Москвитянин) (The Muscovite).

Here are verses 88-142 of Canto V of Hell in Dmitry Min’s Russian translation:

“О существо, постигшее любовь!
О ты, который здѣсь во тьмѣ кромѣшной
Увидѣлъ насъ, пролившихъ въ мірѣ кровь!
Когда бъ Господь внималъ молитвѣ грѣшной,
Молили бъ мы послать тебѣ покой
За грусть о нашей скорби неутѣшной.
Что скажешь намъ? что хочешь знать? открой:
Все выскажемъ и выслушаемъ вскорѣ,
Пока замолкъ на время вѣтра вой.
Лежитъ страна, гдѣ я жила на горе,
У взморья, тамъ, гдѣ мира колыбель
Находитъ По со спутниками въ морѣ.
Любовь, сердецъ прекрасныхъ связь и цѣль,
Моей красой его обворожила
И я, лишась ея, грущу досель.
Любовь, любимому любить судила
И такъ меня съ нимъ страстью увлекла,
Что, видишь, я и здѣсь не разлюбила.
Любовь къ одной насъ смерти привела;
Того, кѣмъ мы убиты, ждутъ въ Каинѣ!”
Такъ намъ одна изъ двухъ тѣней рекла.
Склонивъ чело, внималъ я о причинѣ .
Мученій ихъ, не подымалъ главы,
Пока мой вождь: “О чемъ ты мыслишь нынѣ?”
И, давъ отвѣтъ, я продолжалъ: “Увы!
Какъ много сладкихъ думъ, какія грезы
Ихъ низвели въ мученьямъ сей толпы?”
И къ нимъ потомъ: “Твоей судьбы угрозы
И горестный, Франческа, твой разсказъ
Въ очахъ рождаетъ состраданья слезы.
Но объясни: томленій въ сладкій часъ
Чрезъ что и какъ неясныя влеченья
Уразумѣть страсть научила васъ?”
И мнѣ она: “Нѣтъ большаго мученья,
Какъ о порѣ счастливой вспоминать
Въ несчастіи: твой вождь того же мнѣнья.
Ты хочешь страсти первый корень знать?
Скажу, какъ тотъ, который вѣсть печали
И говоритъ и долженъ самъ рыдать.
Однажды мы, въ мигъ счастія, читали,
Какъ Ланчелотъ въ безуміи любилъ:
Опасности быть вмѣстѣ мы не знали.
Не разъ въ лицѣ румянца гаснулъ пылъ
И взоръ его встрѣчалъ мой взоръ безпечный;
Но злой романъ въ тотъ мигъ насъ побѣдилъ,
Когда прочли, какъ поцѣлуй сердечный
Былъ приманенъ улыбкою къ устамъ,
И тотъ, съ кѣмъ я ужъ не разстанусь вѣчно,
Затрепетавъ, къ моимъ приникнулъ самъ….
Былъ Галеотто авторъ книги гнусной!….
Въ тотъ день мы дальше не читали тамъ!”
Такъ духъ одинъ сказалъ, межъ тѣмъ такъ грустно
Рыдалъ другой, что въ скорби наконецъ
Я обомлѣлъ отъ повѣсти изустной
И палъ безъ чувствъ, какъ падаетъ мертвецъ.