Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 5(1969)2(192-194)
GEORGE ZAMMIT, Maltese Rhapsody, Illustrated by the Author, Pieta (Malta), National Press, 1969, pp. 80.
Maltese Rhapsody, as its very name implies, presents a poem that extols the beauties, virtues and all the other good qualities that Dr. George Zammit, a writer of repute and keen observer of his surroundings, sees in his beloved Malta and its people.
The Author has to his credit a number of other works in verse and [p.193]prose in various languages dealing with a wide variety of subjects, ranging from humorous to religious, including items of purely scholastic nature.
Now with the publication of "Maltese Rhapsody", we may acknowledge also Dr. Zammit as a painter in the true sense of the word because, in this work, he combines seven hundred and forty five lines of fine poetry with forty-one good drawings in monochrome of local scenes most of which appearing in print or in any other medium for the first time.
By doing so, besides adding more laurel for his high-flowing verse, he earns the merit of discovering and recording so many picturesque spots and characteristic corners which only a person with an innate artistic sense would choose for illustration. Something, however, must have gone wrong with the plates especially in the case of the middle tones. Notwithstanding this, as a whole, the message, the character and atmosphere of the scenes do not seem much affected, and some of them reach a high standard of of illustrative art, namely: the chapel of St. Paul the hermit, near Mosta (pi. 2), "Tal-Lunzjata" chapel and valley, Gozo (pi. 6), Chapel on Bengemma heights (pi. 10), Chapel of St. Anne, Pwales (pi. 18), Wayside tabernacle, Birkirkara (pi. 20), Xlendi, Gozo (pi. 22), "Ghajn Qatet", Victoria Gozo (pi. 26), St. Sophia Street, Mdina (pi. 30), Porta dei Greci, Mdina (pi. 31), and the Windmill, Lija (pi. 34).
After all, the Author has no pretensions in painting as he himself confesses in the interesting preface of the book, wherein Dr. Zammit seems to be very sincere. He says: "It is with a view to showing that there is still much that can be saved and preserved (national heritage) for the benefit of posterity that this small collection of sketches, drawn by a loving though not expert hand is being produced"^
With regard to his verse he tells us that: "The metre chosen varies according to mood and subject matter, from the traditional pentameter, the ballad and stanza-form, to free verse." He frankly calls it romantic:
but we should like to add that it is also very instructive and educative, full of noble thoughts and recollections of the most important episodes of our varied history. In fact, the poem touches on Hagar Qim, Mdina, St. Angelo, Buskett, Xlendi, Ta' Cenc, and many other typical Maltese places, and mentions, among other prominent people that shaped our destiny, Hannibal, Count Roger, La Valette, and Don Michele Xerri.
The legendary and folkloristic sides were also fruitfully explored beginning with Calypso and passing down to Hassan's cave, the Bride of Mosta and the youth of San Mitri. Some of our usages are also well interwoven within the lines, pointing out among others the youth's song under the girl's window decorated with the traditional flower pot, the presentation of the fish on the day of engagement, the wedding ceremony under the canopy, and the superstitious use of the bovine horns over the farmhouses. The public merriments of Mnarja and the gostra were not neglected; but the greatest vitality of the poem seems to be derived from the religious [p.194] sentiment of the Maltese who, since embracing the faith from St. Paul's hands, have constantly fought to keep it untouched: that faith which nourished the love, unity and the activities of the people. This is reflected in many passages, such as those dealing with the urge of men to run with the burden of the statue of Christ arisen during the procession of Easter and the enthusiasm of the boys in delivering sermons during the Christmas midnight celebrations.
The book ends with a very useful set of notes that much helps the non-Maltese reader and all those who are not acquainted with the Maltese history and life; thus doing the author is assured of reaching his aim.
Raphael Bonnici Cali