I could not find a better title in English for Charles Bezzina’s recent, fascinating collection of poems, than a line from Walter de la Mer’s In a Twilight Dim with Rose. The poem perfectly describes Bezzina’s absorbing and evocative book, inspired by the sea and titled Mal-Ħmura tax-Xefaq.
Bezzina, in spite of his young age, has achieved success in other forms. Not least in his historical renderings about events in his native Gozo. The title is indicative enough to demonstrate Bezzina’s mystical paths and experiences of the sea.
One of Bezzina’s most striking qualities as a writer, whether in poetry or prose, lies in his ability to wax lyrical at scenery and the feel of places. Idyllic Gozo, with its secluded coves, majestic cliffs, sleepy villages and isolated watch towers, are all characterised by Bezzina’s absorption of what I call the spirit of place.
The climatic conditions of the unpredictable sea, gentle or threatening, calm or turbulent, beautiful or forbidding, are the leit motif, recurring themes. They shape his character, moods, at times even his whole life. The varying moods of the sea make an indelible impact on his sense and sensibility, his sensuousness and sensuality, and – above all – his spirituality. Thus, in Torri Msaħħar, we see his feeling of complete isolation as “the sea gulls shrill eerie cries cast away our vanity and desires”.
Book deserves an ornate niche in the company of the legendary poets of this isle
His dialogue with the stars and the moon, as the calm sea rolls gently on the sandy shore, is very evocative and gives deep reflection. The Gozitan Ġuże Aquilina, in Taħt Tlett Saltniet, describes Ermelinda during her sensuous swirling in a delirious dance on the bastions of Vittoriosa and he draws a parallel with the changing moods of the sea, describing the torrid dancer as beautiful and attractive both in happiness and avenging ire.
Bezzina figures the surrounding seas that shapes our lives in the same way. As in Tennyson’s Brook, the poet hints at the immortality of the sea: “for man may come and man may go/But I go on for ever”.
The sea has been a powerful, inevitable presence in the author’s psyche, an image touching all human senses, a metaphor for the unseen world beyond the seas. As an island nation, we all feel strong connections to the sea and its magic coastline, which Bezzina expresses as the metaphor of life. He experiences with colourful verses the sea in contrasting ways – as powerful but serene, beautiful but dangerous, benign but bitter.
In poetry, one of the most effective forms of language syntax is the metaphor, a figure of speech implying analogy and imagery. Bezzina masterly explores this, presenting the sea as a voyage of personal growth, relating personal experiences about how life has its highs and its lows, its sweetness and bitterness, all expressed nostalgically in expressive quatrains as in a trance.
The poet marvels at the mysterious sea that conceals billions of creatures, interacting in ways we will never understand. He helps us celebrate all that is special about the sea. As I perused these poems visions, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge with his Rime of the Ancient, Mariner, John Masefield’s Sea Fever and Lord Tennyson’s Ulysees all surfaced as I whispered “There lies the port, the vessel puffs its sails/There glooms the dark broad sea”, while I listened wistfully to Debussy’s La Mer. Of such stuff, incurable romantics are made of.
Bezzina’s style is compatible with his idyllic vision of Gozo – its coastline, its seascape and its legends – as if discovering the mysterious golden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in the shimmering blue sea.
Since time immemorial, the Gozitan seascape has played a major role in poetry starting with Homer, the father of European literature, whose epic poem The Odyssey is a clear metaphor of life, seeing Ulysses spend seven years with the sensuous nymph Calypso in the earthly paradise of the turquoise waters and the green vegetation on the slopes of Xagħra.
This poetry book, in the vernacular, with over 200 sea inspirations, bubbles with the excitement and moods of the post-modern trends, imbibing once again the style and idiom of the Mediterranean. It is lush, evocative, romantic and, above all, a genuine rendering of the spirit of place.
The recipient of many national and international award for his literary works, Bezzina’s latest foray in verse with this absorbing and captivating book deserves an ornate niche in the company of the legendary poets of this isle.
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