Il-Kantilena is the oldest known literary text in the Maltese language. It dates from the 15th century but was not found until 1966 or 1968 by Prof. Godfrey Wettinger and Fr. M. Fsadni (OP). The poem is attributed to Pietru Caxaro, and was recorded by Caxaro’s nephew, Brandano, in his notarial register (Dec. 1533–May 1563).

Although written in Maltese, in Latin script, it was a very early Maltese that had not yet been influenced much by Italian or English, and is thus an example of historic Maltese.

Below is an approximate translation in English.

 

Witness my predicament, my friends, as I shall relate it to you:

Never has there been, neither in the past, nor in your lifetime,
A heart, ungoverned, without lord or sultan,
That threw me down a well, with broken stairs
Where, yearning to drown, I descend the steps of my downfall.

I climb back up and down again, always faced with high seas.

It fell, my building, its foundations collapsed.

It was not the builders’ fault, but the rock gave way,

Where I had hoped to find rock, I found loose clay

It fell, my edifice, which I had been building for so long.

And so, my edifice subsided, and I shall have to build it up again,
You change it to the site that suits it
Who changes his place, changes his fate!
for each piece of land has its own shape;
there is white land and there is black land, and there is also red
But above all, what you want from it is a fruit.