Karmenu Vassallo was born in the village of Siġġiewi on the 18th of March 1913. He went to school at St Aloysius College and later attended the Convent of St Mark in Rabat, where he studied Latin and Italian literature, philosophy and theology. Harbouring the aspiration to become a missionary, he spent the years 1932 to 1935 as a novice at the Missionary Society of St Paul (MSSP).

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Vassallo worked as a journalist at Leħen is-Sewwa, where he not only contributed as a writer but also engaged in proofreading and managed the literature section. Subsequently, he joined the editorial team of another well-known newspaper, Il-Berqa, taking on the role of literary editor. In the period spanning from 1939 to 1941, he was a teacher at St Aloysius College, covering a variety of subjects including Maltese, Italian, Maltese history and geography.

In 1941 he enlisted in the K.O.M.R. regiment, where he served until 1944. His commendable service earned him the “1939-45 Star”, the “Africa Star” and the “War Medal 1939-45".

After the war he served as a government clerk with the Commission for the Revision of Laws. In 1947 Vassallo was appointed headmaster at the Lyceum, where he taught Maltese, Italian and Latin. He subsequently worked with the Department of Information, and even as an officer overseeing broadcasting in schools. He retired from work in 1968.

Vassallo wrote in Maltese, English and Italian. His poems were translated into French by Laurent Ropa and into Italian by Vincenzo Maria Pellegrini and Giovanni Curmi. His poetic style is reminiscent of Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. Like Leopardi, Vassallo focuses on the portrayal of human suffering, life’s sorrows and frustrations, and the rebellion inherent in young adulthood. Within Vassallo’s verses, one encounters a profound philosophy intertwined with Christian principles.

For instance, in “Lit-Tfajla ta’ Mħabbti” (“To the Girl of my Love”), Vassallo envisions divine love as an idealised and abstract feminine presence, a fundamental and redemptive power that is the ultimate essence of existence. He engages with it wholeheartedly because it transcends the emptiness of mundane life and the coarseness of the human body. Life, according to him, unfolds like an everlasting dream and it is only through the salvation of divine love that we can truly awaken.

This sombre mood presents a stark contrast to the joyous and celebratory atmosphere of another poem titled “Formosa”, possibly inspired by a medieval antiphon based on The Song of Songs, sung in the feasts of the Virgin Mary. In this piece as well, Vassallo idealises and elevates the feminine presence, referring to her as “Ġmiel” (Beauty) in the opening lines. The connection between the poet and this woman is portrayed as a sacred marriage, a union that merges two individuals into a single entity blessed by God. According to Vassallo, through this sacred bond one can cultivate and propagate faith. Vassallo employs the image of a blossoming garden to emphasise this spiritual growth and the flourishing of faith.

Vassallo died on the 7th of April 1987 at the age of 74.

Biography written by Noel Tanti



Supported by

Arts Council Malta

Creative Industries Platform

Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi

With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt

Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul

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