Meylak received her education at the Central School in Gozo, after which she found a position in government offices, which she held for seventeen years. In 1942 she became a teacher, a job that gave her much satisfaction and that she held until she retired twenty years later.
Unlike her male contemporaries, Meylak seems not to have been overtly concerned with existential preoccupations. Instead, her poetry is firmly entrenched in foregone certainties, primarily that nature is intensely beautiful and that God is all-merciful. These premises, coupled with her flowing verses and vivid imagination, give the mistaken impression that there is no profundity to her writing and that her work is intended for children. A case in point is “Flieli tal-Bettieħ”, a poem about melons. Meylak bequeaths the melon plant with foresight, agency and benevolence, not unlike those of God, its creator, and the fruit slices become tiny boats that ferry joyfulness to those that are eagerly waiting for a juicy bite.
In another poem, “Inżul ix-Xemx”, Meylak describes a sunset. She conjures a beautiful, almost alchemical image in which the setting sun is a ball of fire, and its hue, melting gold. She then likens this explosion of colour to a basket of blooming flowers.
Her dogged determination to paint the world with a bright palette betrays a certain unease with the contemporary state of the world. We can see this in her poem “Dudu tal-Ħarir”. The poet recounts how she adopted a tiny, defenceless silkworm, as though it were a child, and tried to raise it according to predetermined human norms. However, her bold optimism proved futile because the silkworm could not go against its nature. When it finally metamorphoses into a butterfly, Meylak likens it to an angel, admitting that, as a caterpillar, it looked like an “ugly snake” (serp ikrah).
Meylak lived through two World Wars and she wrote a number of as yet unpublished poems about them. The poems are extremely patriotic in nature, which further underscores the fact that she was not naive about her surroundings, and that her predisposition towards the brighter side of life was not necessarily a denial of reality. Possibly, it was an act of defiance. It is worth remembering that Meylak lived during an era when a woman’s value to society was determined by her marital status. Instead of having a family, she remained an unmarried woman, and focused on her career and immersed herself in her art.
Written by Noel Tanti
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul