"Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures." This extract explains UNESCO's decision recognising the most treasured form of linguistic expression. In 1999 UNESCO proclaimed 21 March as World Poetry Day, opens a new window. Since then, countries have been celebrating World Poetry Day annually with various activities and progammes.
Poetry in different societies and cultures
The term of poetry in ancient Greek means “I create” (ποιεω, poieo). It is characterized with its artform of human language creating aesthetic qualities and evoking imagination of experiences and emotions. Although the origin of poetry is unknown, it is believed that poetry plays a crucial role in different societies. In pre-literate societies, poetry was used to record oral history, storytelling and even genealogy. It arose in magic spells recited to ensure a good harvest in agricultural societies. In more recent times, the advancement of information and communication technologies has facilitated the rise of performance poetry so poetry and other artforms are integrated.
As a unique form of literature, poetry serves as a firm cultural root and has a great influence on societies. For example, in the Western world, The Odyssey, opens a new window, written around 700 BCE, is one of the oldest and most well-known poems. It is believed that The Odyssey is fundamental to the modern Western canon including high culture literature, music, philosophy and art works. Similarly, the first collection of Chinese poetry, The Book of Songs, opens a new window, created between the 11th century and 2nd century BCE, has a lasting influence on Chinese civilisation, including education, politics, diplomacy, moral instruction, and communal life.
International and local poetry resources
- Poetry International Archives, opens a new window: contains articles on poetry research, poems and poets from various countries and cultures
- World Poetry Movement, opens a new window: contains information on international poetry festivals and global actions and aims to increase our mutual cooperation among poets
- Lyrikline, opens a new window: An international website for experiencing the diversity of contemporary poetry
- Local poetry-related resources and organisations, opens a new window: Link to the Christchurch City Libraries webpage containing information on library poetry collections, Canterbury poetry groups and events, New Zealand poets and poetry organisatons
Poems recommended by the Staff from Christchurch City Libraries
To celebrate World Poetry Day, the staff from Christchurch City Libraries recommended poems from their culture and country.
Prologue by Yun Dong-ju (1917 – 1945), a Korean poet known for lyric poetry
Recommended by Kowoon Byun | Hapori, Level 1, Tūranga
죽는 날까지 하늘을 우러러
오늘 밤에도 별이 바람에 스치운다.
“하늘과 바람과 별과 시” (정음사, 1948)
by Yun Dong-ju
Until the day I die
I long to have no speck of shame
Tonight, again, the wind brushes the stars.
Respeito by Manoel de Barros, a Brazilian poet
Recommended by Debora Fernandes | Fendalton Library, Te Kete Wānanga o Waimairi
by Manoel de Barros
Dou respeito às coisas desimportantes
e aos seres desimportantes.
Prezo insetos mais que aviões.
Prezo a velocidade
das tartarugas mais que a dos mísseis.
Tenho em mim esse atraso de nascença.
Eu fui aparelhado
para gostar de passarinhos.
Tenho abundância de ser feliz por isso.
Meu quintal é maior do que o mundo.
LALITHAM by PP Ramachandran.
Recommended by Remadevi Gopalakrishnan | Hornby Library, Te Kete Wānanga o Te Urumanu
LALITHAM is a short but beautiful Malayalam poem.The poet attempts to narrate the complexity of human life compared to the simplicity of the lives of birds and animals around us. Human beings have a lot to learn from nature in terms of how to live a simple life.
by P P Ramachandran
A sweet chirp would suffice
To let it be known
That I am here
A dropped feather would suffice
To let the world know
That I was here
The warmth of brooding would suffice
That I will be here
How else do birds
With greater simplicity?
Mr Week by Jan Brzechwa (15 August 1898 – 2 July 1966), a Polish poet, author and lawyer, known mostly for his contribution to children's literature
Recommended by Beata Kumagai | Tuakiri, Level 2, Tūranga
This poem is about The Week. Probably, to help children to learn and remember the week's names.
Tydzień dzieci miał siedmioro:
"Niech się tutaj wszystkie zbiorą!"
Ale przecież nie tak łatwo
Radzić sobie z liczną dziatwą:
Poniedziałek już od wtorku
Poszukuje kota w worku,
Wtorek środę wziął pod brodę:
"Chodźmy sitkiem czerpać wodę."
Czwartek w górze igłą grzebie
I zaszywa dziury w niebie.
Chcieli pracę skończyć w piątek,
A to ledwie był początek.
Zamyśliła się sobota:
"Toż dopiero jest robota!"
Poszli razem do niedzieli,
Tam porządnie odpoczęli.
Tydzień drapie się w przedziałek:
"No a gdzie jest poniedziałek?"
Poniedziałek już od wtorku
Poszukuje kota w worku -
I tak dalej...
Mr Week had days of seven,
You Foolish Men by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695), a Mexican poet
Recommended by Steffi Marshall | Upper Riccarton Community and School Library, Te Kete Wānanga o Pūtaringamotu
This is a poem by Mexican Poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. “She is one of the most important and renowned poets in Mexico, if not the world. She was born Juana Ines de Asbaje y Ramirez and started writing at the age of eight and became as self-taught scholar, student of scientific thought , philosopher, composer and poet of the baroque school . Well ahead of her time, she has also been called the first feminist of the new World ”. I think every single Mexican in the world knows at least the first few lines!
Letra de Hombres Necios Que Acusáis
Hombres necios que acusáis
Si con ansia sin igual
Combatís su resistencia
Parecer quiere el denuedo
Queréis con presunción necia
¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
Con el favor y el desdén
Opinión ninguna gana,
Siempre tan necios andáis
¿Pues cómo ha de estar templada
Mas entre el enfado y pena
Dan vuestras amantes penas
¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
¿O cuál es más de culpar,
¿Pues para qué os espantáis
Dejad de solicitar
Bien con muchas armas fundo
You Foolish Men
Silly, you men-so very adept
After you've won by urgent plea
You batter her resistance down
When it comes to bravely posturing,
Presumptuous beyond belief,
For plain default of common sense,
Whether you're favored or disdained,
With you, no woman can hope to score;
Your folly is always the same:
What happy mean could there be
Still, whether it's torment or anger—
It's your persistent entreaties
So where does the greater guilt lie
Or which is more to be blamed—
So why are you men all so stunned
If you'd give up pursuing them,
I well know what powerful arms
Oh, tranquility!, a Japanese poem
Recommended by Tomo Shibata | Sumner Centre, Matuku Takotako
I like the focus on the mental state that can defy the happenings around us.The contrast between tranquility and cicada’s voice is beautiful!
閑けさや 岩にしみいる 蝉の声
Shizukesa ya/ Iwa ni shimiiru/ Semi no koe
Penetrating the very rock,
A cicada’s voice.
Translated by Helen Craig Mccullough
One Generation by Gu Cheng, a Chinese poet
Recommended by Anna Sun | Tūhuratanga, Level 3, Tūranga
One Generation is one of the best Chinese modernist poems. The two-line poem titled "A Generation" ("一代人") was perhaps Gu Cheng's most famous contribution to contemporary Chinese literature. It had been regarded as an accurate representation of the younger generation seeking knowledge and future.
The dark night gives me dark eyes
A Man Said To The Universe by Stephen Crane, an American writer
Recommended by Jonathan Truesdale | Parklands Library, Te Kete Wānanga o Waitikiri
One of my favourites is from the late 19th century American writer, Stephen Crane, best known for his books like Red Badge of Courage and The Open Boat, but who was also a poet. He was one of the major figures in American Naturalism, which was a literary movement that emphasized the universe's indifference to man.
A Man Said To The Universe
A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the Universe
"That fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation"
Toiling Farmers by Li Shen, a Chinese Tang Dynasty poet
Recommended by Hong Wang | NLA Team
The poem is well-known among the Chinese. When children start school, they are required to recite the poem. It expresses empathy for farmers. The first two lines vividly describe farmers' hard work under the blazing heat at noon. The following two lines remind people to cherish the precious food in plate as they come from farmers' hard work.
Farmers weeding at noon,
Ed è subito sera by Salvatore Quasimodo
Recommended by Vanessa Tedesco, Fingertip Library
I have chosen this very famous poem because it depicts the transient nature of life and the loneliness which all of us experience in our time on this earth.
Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da un raggio di sole:
ed è subito sera
And suddenly it’s evening by Salvatore Quasimodo
Everyone stands alone on the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of the sun:
and suddenly it’s evening