UNESCO chief hails poetry as an 'expansion of our common humanity' on World Day

Al-Taghrooda, traditional Bedouin chanted poetry. Photo: Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Sultanate of Oman, 2011

21 March 2016 – By paying tribute to the men and women whose only instrument is free speech, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the value of poetry as a symbol of the human spirit's creativity as she marked the annual observance of World Poetry Day.

“By giving form and words to that which has none – such as the unfathomable beauty that surrounds us, the immense suffering and misery of the world – poetry contributes to the expansion of our common humanity, helping to increase its strength, solidarity and self-awareness,” Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message for the Day.

Ms. Bokova pointed to the voices that carry poetry as helping to promote linguistic diversity and freedom of expression, saying: “They participate in the global effort towards artistic education and the dissemination of culture. The first word of a poem sometimes suffices to regain confidence in the face of adversity, to find the path of hope in the face of barbarity.”

Shakespeare, who died 400 years ago, wrote in A Midsummer Night's Dream that: “The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven. And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”

Ms. Bokova underscored that in the age of automation and the immediacy of modern life, “poetry also opens a space for the freedom and adventure inherent in human dignity. From Korean Arirang to Mexican Pirekua, the Hudhud chants of the Ifugao people, Saudi Arabian Alardah, Turkmen Koroghlu and Kyrgyz Aitysh, each culture has its poetic art that it uses to transmit knowledge, socio-cultural values and collective memory, which strengthen mutual respect, social cohesion and the search for peace.”

Commemorating the Day, she applauded the practitioners, actors, storytellers and all those anonymous voices committed to and through poetry, giving readings in the shadows or in the spotlights, in gardens or streets and called upon all Member States “to support this poetic effort, which has the power to bring us together, regardless of origins or beliefs, by that which is at the very core of humanity.”


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