Antoine Cassar calls these poems “mosaics” (adding a clarifying “multilingual sonnets”). I’ve seen plenty of poems that incorporate material from a second language, but I’ve never seen any with material from five woven together in this fashion:

C’est la vie
Run, rabbit, run, run, run, from the womb to the tomb,
de cuatro a dos a tres, del río a la mar,
play the fool, suffer school, żunżana ddur iddur,
engage-toi, perds ta foi, le regole imparar,
kul u sum, aħra u bul, chase the moon, meet your doom,
walk on ice, roll your dice, col destino danzar,
métro, boulot, dodo, titla’ x-xemx, terġa’ tqum,
decir siempre mañana y nunca mañanar,
try to fly, touch the sky, hit the stone, break a bone,
sell your soul for a loan to call those bricks your home,
fall in love, rise above, fall apart, stitch your heart,
che sarà? ça ira! plus rien de nous sera,
minn sodda għal sodda niġru tiġrija kontra l-baħħ,
sakemm tinbela’ ruħna mill-ġuf mudlam ta’ l-art.

Cassar explains:

Mużajk is an experiment in multilingual verse, an attempt to combine the sounds of different languages into a single rhythm and a single thought.
Written in a blend of English, French, Italian, Maltese and Spanish (in no particular order or proportion), but occasionally also peppered with phrases from other languages, the mużajki or mosaics endeavour to explore the possibilities of braiding together the sounds and cadences, literary memories and motifs of different tongues. The successful interaction of the various elements will depend on how well the seemingly multiple voices are gelled into one by the rhythm and logic of the poem….

When Dave Bonta sent me the link, he said he wanted “to share the page with the only two people I know who might be able to understand almost all the lines as written (except, I suppose, for the Maltese),” and my ability to read all the languages (except, of course, for the Maltese) was certainly a factor in my enjoyment—I don’t know if a monolingual reader would enjoy them at all. At any rate, it’s a fascinating experiment; thanks, Dave!
Below is Cassar’s English translation of the poem I quoted (he helpfully supplies them for all his poems):

Run, rabbit, run, run, run, from the womb to the tomb, from four to two to three, from the river to the sea, play the fool, suffer school, the wasp goes round and round*, get involved, lose your faith, learn the rules,
eat and fast, shit and piss, chase the moon, meet your doom, walk on ice, roll your dice, with destiny dance, metro, work, sleep, the sun rises, you get up again, to say always tomorrow and never tomorrow reach,
try to fly, touch the sky, hit the stone, break a bone, sell your soul for a loan to call those bricks your home, fall in love, rise above, fall apart, stitch your heart,
what will be? it will go well, nothing more of us will be, from bed to bed we run a race against the void, until our soul is swallowed by the dark womb of the land.
* the name of a Maltese children’s game


  1. Pentalingual sonnets? Friggin’ awe – wait for it – some. Awesome. The only way this could be more perfect is if there were one where Hungarian and Maltese mix.
    Oh look…
    FYI, this is the same Twanny Cassar of Triq il-Maqluba which featured, among other cool things, a discussion of various Maltese euphemisms for male and female sexual organs and one fascinating treatise on the various meanings of the word “metaphor”.

  2. The poetic form reminds me of “The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy”:
    Mauch muttoun, byt buttoun, peilit gluttoun, [h]air to Hilhous;
         Rank beggar, ostir dregar, foule fleggar in the flet;
    Chittirlilling, ruch rilling, lik schilling in the milhous;
         Baird rehator, theif of natour, fals tratour, feyindis gett;
         Filling of tauch, rak sauch, cry “crauch,” thow art ou[e]r sett;
    Muttoun dryver, girnall ryver, yadswyvar, fowll fell the[e]:
         Herretyk, lunatyk, purspyk, carlingis pet,
    Rottin crok, dirtin dok — cry “cok,” or I sall quell the[e].
    Also, “the metaphor” somewhat reminds me of “the monosyllable”, its female counterpart.

  3. A fine example of ars macaronica. For me it definitely has a Too Much Monkey Business / Subterranean Homesick Blues feel to it.

  4. John Emerson says

    Subterranean Homesick Blues — yeah, it had a good sound.

  5. I once tried writing a five-lingual limerick:
    Once a boy who was known as Dick
    Сочинить вдруг решил лимерИк
    Mais il’s ete retard,
    ויצא לו שיר מה זה מצחיק

  6. you and your readers might like this sonnet by góngora:
    las tablas del bajel despedazadas
    (signum naufragii pium et crudele),
    del tempio sacro, con le rotte vele,
    ficaraon nas paredes penduradas.
    del tiempo las injurias perdonadas,
    et orionis vi nimbosae stellae
    raccoglio le smarrite pecorelle
    nas ribeiras do betis espalhadas.
    volveré a ser pastor, pues marinero
    quel dio non vuol, che sol suo strale sprona
    do austro os assopros e do oceám as agoas;
    haciendo al triste son, aunque grosero,
    di questa canna, già selvaggia donna,
    saudade a as feras, e aos penedos magoas.
    i know a certain juan de luque published a sonnet in seven languages in 1606 [spanish, latin, italian, portuguese, french, greek and arabic], but haven’t been able to find it.

  7. I see the impulse goes way back!

  8. a certain Juan de Luque
    As well as a dialogo in lenguaje guineo (Crioulo?).

  9. Here is a Hexalingual poem in Romance languages on Romance peoples (Pan-Romance sentiments have had little political impact, which, considering the kind of impact pan-Germanic and pan-Slavic political movements have had, is doubtless for the better); well, anyway, enjoy!:
    Jo canto en català, llengua també
    nacida en este mundo de cultura;
    en français, belle langue qu’y est née
    e anche in italiano, addiritura.
    El genio castellano bien se ve
    e o português, qua andou major lonjura.
    Et ainsi de tous ces mots harmonisés
    eu voi face o perfectă legătură.
    Para tecer a lauda em que se mostre
    tutto il valore delle lingue nostre,
    caut în româna muza cea senina.
    Pour louer très haut la verve de ces gens
    cantando as glórias de ontem e de amanhã
    de la triunfante génesis latina.
    (In: Luciano Maia, AS TETAS DA LOBA, 1995)

  10. Excellent! (I added the appropriate accents; hope you don’t mind.)

  11. It reminds me of Borges’ “The Library of Babel”:
    Antes de un siglo pudo establecerse el idioma: un dialecto samoyedo-lituano del guaraní, con inflexiones de árabe clásico.
    Within a century, the language was established: a Samoyedic Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabian inflections.
    Tritium is panglossium, and to take it is to know all languages, all scripts known to those who have taken it before you, stretching back, I believe, to the period at which Homo first became loquens (may contain nugae)

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