The Essential Achille Mizzi – the poetry of the harlequin’s anxious heart
The Essential Achille Mizzi, published by Grafika Logika and edited by Mr. Tony Cortis, is a new bi-lingual edition of the poems of Achille Mizzi. Rev. Professor Peter Serracino Inglott selects and translates 47 poems for this edition and writes the introduction. This translation contains two aspects. In the first aspect, we notice the translator trying to reproduce faithfully the original intentions of the poet, which are in Maltese, in the English language. Serracino Inglott believes that one can develop such translation because the poems of Achille Mizzi contain archetypal features. In the second aspect, the translator seeks to incorporate his own philosophical and religious expertise to make a selection of poems that consolidate the image of the human person as a species of consciousness that experiences life in a singular manner in a particular place and time. Together these experiences produce the sacramental nature of the itinerary of life.(p. XIII)
On a collective level, one can understand the individualistic patterns present in the poems of Achille Mizzi. The human person in Mizzi’s poetry appears traversing the passage of time and climbing a ‘ladder of knowledge’.(Foetus, p. 15) To reach the top part of the ladder sounds advantageous because a glimpse from the heights extends our perception beyond our daily observations. For the poet, the climb sharpens our awareness about the stark realities that surround our life. Rather than solace, peak positions reveal to us the fact that we are mortal creatures moving across life in a fragile manner. The image of the passage of life as a tightrope stretched over an abyss continues to evoke the dangers that one can encounter in life.
Mizzi resonates with a certain emphasis, the notion that we pass our life on earth oscillating between the fall towards the nature of the beast and the dream to soar high and to become gods. For Mizzi, the earth consists of a myriad of microcosms. The images of deserts (Arizona, p. 3) and oceans enlarge and extend our sense of the ineffable, that we can never really fully understand the mysterious immensity that surrounds our life. The poems of Mizzi question deeply the lack of understanding on our part to comprehend the life we live. In ‘Primordium’ there is a high poetic verse that tells us about the Lord’s kiss to awaken the human person to life. Though this gesture appears to reverse the kiss of betrayal by Judas to the Lord, yet the human person still looks baffled to understand whether the granting of life was a sign of trust or betrayal. It is as if the Lord sentenced the mortal creature to take care of life without any support. For Mizzi, the ‘flight of time’ (Death, p. 25) presses us to do things quickly and to fit our actions in the conch of time.(Sub Specie Aeternitatis, p. 75) Simultaneously, our struggle to contain things together appears threatened because that which we hold can burst and fragment into a myriad of stars.
The poetry of Mizzi speaks of our anxious condition. His verses compose our human heart with the chiaroscuro tones of the ‘murky darkness of night and light’.(Wrestling, p. 81) The light seems to represent the moment when we manage to understand and contain things, and the dark tones are suggestive of our condition when we feel lost and things run out of control for us. There is maybe, hope, in the waiting for at least one particle of a ray of light.(A Rose, p. 31) The poems of Mizzi try to landscape the desert of our lives by the dissemination of the seeds of life reflected in the images of trees and streams of blood. Yet, everything remains stretched on a cord. According to Mizzi our walk across life appears to be one on stilts.(Crab, p. 137) The umbilical cord (Foetus, p. 15) itself projects images of unity and separation, of moments when we feel we are one with community and of the violent moments where we feel separate from life. The fate of our pilgrimage consists of this constant swing between ‘unfulfilled deliriums and impossible dreams’. (Caravan, p. 119) Maybe, in our fanciful features we appear like god’s harlequin. (Harlequin, p. 93) Sadly and oddly enough, this can indicate that playfulness is also a characteristic of the creator. For this life of ours which appears to us like a ‘game that is not a game’, (Gymnasion, p. 131) ironically was granted to us by ‘way of a joke’.(Spider, p. 49)
Throughout this collection of poems, Mizzi stresses the fragile condition of the human person as an amazed creature, almost possessed by a sense of wonder, about the processes that one lives in one’s interior cosmos and the struggle to reconcile these experiences with the exterior world. In this sense, one can claim that Achille Mizzi is unique in his verses because he presents us with a portrait of the anxious condition of humanity in a highly original manner.
Mark Debono M.A.(Philosophy)
is a Junior College Lecturer of Systems of Knowledge.