UNESCO World Poetry Day Message 2006

The world constantly changes across time and space, from day to day, from one place to another. And human beings are no exception, for we too are in transformation.

To begin with, our own lives as individuals are an exercise in adaptation. In their collectivities, peoples and their societies, cultures and civilizations change across the span of history. Human beings are enterprising agents of change, transforming their environments and, in the process, transforming themselves, thereby challenging any simple sense of a fixed, immutable human nature. And yet the human condition stubbornly remains and when, across time and distance, we recognize ourselves in others and others in ourselves, do we not recognize something enduring? Is there anything that captures simultaneously things in flux and things that do not change?

Of course there is, and that is poetry. Our languages, of course, are different and the ways in which we place words, phrases and sentences may vary, as do the forms and metres of our poetries. But poetry, through its diverse shapes and rhythms, draws us back to the dialogue of change and permanence in life itself.

Through language, we express our different beliefs, values and experiences, and the plurality of this flow of identities makes up humanity. Poetry is a bridge between individuals and groups, helping us to know and understand each other and, indeed, ourselves. It articulates – sometimes simply, sometimes with deep complexity – our fears, hopes, yearnings and forebodings. In its highest forms, poetry is capable of expressing a truth which captures the essence of our shared humanity. And the beauty of poetry reminds us of the artistic heights which humankind can reach.

This year, we are celebrating the centenary of the birth of the great philosopher-poet, Leopold Sédar Senghor. He wrote: “It is enough to name something for the meaning beneath the sign to emerge.” Poetry is the great way of naming the world, its permanent features and its transformations, in a manner that delights the human spirit. Let World Poetry Day remind us of this magical capacity of poetry in all its forms.


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Kōichirō Matsuura

Kōichirō Matsuura served as the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from 1999 to 2009.

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