The Malta Independent on Sunday

A 35-year quest

‘Il-Gbir tal-Poeziji kollha bit-Taljan u bil-Malti ta’ Dun Karm Ricerka ta’ hamsa u tletin sena’

- Noel Grima

Author: Oliver Friggieri Publishers: Sponsored by APS Bank Extent: 30pp

Malta’s national poet, Dun Karm, was born in Zebbug in 1871 and died in 1961.

His life spanned not just two centuries but also two world wars. His artistic production spanned two languages – he began writing in Italian and then gradually shifted over to Maltese.

It was perfectly natural for him and for people of his generation, to speak and write in Italian. He was educated in Italian both at the Zebbug primary school as well as at the Seminary.

Italian was not just the language educated people in those days spoke but also an entire civilizati­on, including literature – Dante, Petrarch, Foscolo and Manzoni.

As from 1912, Dun Karm began writing in Maltese. For many years he alternated between the two languages. Over time he stopped writing in Italian and focused on Maltese. By 1946 he had stopped writing in Italian. Although this is not said in this book, no doubt the world war and the anger felt by Mal- tese at the Italians who had bombed Malta contribute­d to wipe off any trace of Italian-loving in Maltese hearts.

Oliver Friggieri has been researchin­g Dun Karm’s writings for 35 years and in this booklet he tells of his quest.

For Dun Karm, maybe like many poets, did not keep proper records and his poems were scattered here and there and difficult to retrieve.

Prof. Friggieri studied for his MA and later for his Ph.D on Dun Karm’s poems. His core consisted at the beginning in lists of Dun Karm poems compiled by Ninu Cremona and Guze Cardona, later on books published by Dun Karm himself and books by Guze Bonnici and lastly the anthology by Professor Guze Aquilina.

Then in 1980, after publishing his book Dun Karm – Il-Bniedem fil-Poeta, he was informed of a manuscript by Dun Karm himself who had given it to Dun Guzepp Mangion, containing more poems. Lastly he found more unpublishe­d poems in a collection by Peter Vassallo, professor of English at the university and a relative of Dun Karm.

With regards to Dun Karm’s Italian poems, it has been establishe­d that his first published poem in Italian was La Dignita Episcopale dedicated to Bishop Pietro Pace on his inaugural ceremony in 1889.

Other poems were found in all sorts of religious publicatio­ns such as La Diocesi, Santa Rita and the like. Other unpublishe­d poems in Italian included Carnevale (1889) and Alla mia stella (1900).

In all, the author gives in chronologi­cal order a list of no less than 146 poems in Italian written by Dun Karm.

As for poems by Dun Karm in Maltese, a far greater number, the author lists no less than 11 collection­s plus two further collection­s of other poems and some other poems he discovered later.

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