Jack’s Naughty Bits: Dante

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Jack's Naughty Bits

Alas! What boots it with uncessant care

To tend the homely slighted shepherd’s trade,

And strictly meditate the thankless muse,

Were it not better done as others use,

To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,

Or with the tangles of Neaera’s hair?

Words have always seemed like the wrong medium for saying goodbye. Better a squeeze of the hand, a long look with dropping eyes, a salt-sprayed wave from the stern deck. So that’s what this is, my lovelies; I’m signing off. Though I’ve written Naughty Bits for nearly four years, this 182nd column is my last. I say these words quietly, gaze averted, and with the harbor mist about perhaps you can’t see the similar misting of my eyes.


But it’s there. It’s been a beautiful thing, to write about the books I love and try to show why, to laugh and play and get serious and get introspective all in the same column. I thank you all, regulars and first-timers alike, for giving me an audience, and spending some of your time seeing how I spend mine. So many times I’ve wondered how much we humans can reach each other; from your emails and letters you’ve convinced me we can do more than I ever hoped, and you made the whole process both joyous and meaningful. Many thanks.


To end, we turn back on ourselves, like the Jormungandr snake of Old Norse

myth. Here the circle closes around Dante, and his scene of reading in the Inferno, the first naughty bit I ever featured. Francesca is explaining to Dante how she and her lover Paolo (the “this one / Who from me never will be taken” of the last lines) were sent to hell. Their affair was adulterous, and it was a bit that sent them over the edge. They were reading the prose Lancelot, and it became a bit much. The book fell from their hands, and no more did they read that day. And so too, for us: a kiss farewell, and the book is dropped.


From Inferno by Dante Alighieri

. . . There is no greater pain

Than remembering happy days in days

Of sadness . . .

But if to know the root of our love

You have so great a desire,

I’ll tell you as one who weeps as she speaks.

One day, for pleasure simply, we were reading

Of Lancelot, and how love overpowered him;

Alone we were, and free from all suspicions.

Often that reading caused our eyes to meet,

And often the color from our faces went,

But it was a single passage that overcame us:

When we read how the desired smile was

Kissed by one so true a lover, then this one,

Who from me never will be taken,

Kissed me on the mouth, his body all a-tremble,

. . . And no more did we read that day.

last week

Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2001 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.