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Food for Thought – 21 March -World Poetry Day – Poetry and Human Dignity

By Monika Stumpf-Hulsrøj

21 March is World Poetry Day and is a reminder that: „Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings“ (quote: United Nations That does not mean that we are all the same, but poetry makes clear that each human being has a central core, of equal value, and bestowing upon each human being dignity and a right of respect.

With an eye to World Poetry Day our little international club of poetry lovers from the United Nations Women’s Guild (UNWG) met to share and discuss poems showing the central role of human dignity for peaceful co-existence and for the true understanding of the Other as so movingly explained by the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.(

The collection of international poems we exchanged and discussed that evening again showed us that over centuries and in diverse cultures the spirit of poets captured and communicated innermost desires, fears, longings, questions and concerns. Only through an understanding of this central core possessed by each individual are we able to embrace and protect the dignity of our fellow human beings. When we have understood the dignity of the Other, we also understand that we have an infinite responsibility for the Other. Defending the dignity of the Other bestows dignity also upon us!

In the following please find a short selection of the poems shared that evening to give you a different kind of food for thought.


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)                                                        by Brian Bilston


Aid Work – an insult to the poor?

Decades ago, I heard life was simple and it was so

Where there was need, a hand would help

Where there was a tear, a heart would ache

Willing hands and hearts would meet the lack

Charity they called it, for it was so

Now an industry of sorts – an insult to the poor

Now in my day I see things do change

Experts have risen who have not been poor

Whose studies and surveys bring no change

Whose experiments and pilots insult the poor

Whose terms and concepts, tools always change

An industry of sorts – an insult to the poor

What greater insult could there be

When a fellow man calls me just a beneficiary

When our pictures of desperation are used for marketing

When our dignity is insulted just for fundraising

When trainings and awareness are imposed on us

When the life of another is planned by another

When the gift we got is never disclosed

When overheads are deducted before we know

When we smile for pictures we never see

When our children seek to change our ways

When we waste our lives responding to assessments

Indeed an industry sorts – an insult to the poor

By: An anonymous Zimbabwena aid worker, on the NGO sector, quoted in The Guardian, 19 February 2016

Conscience, honour, dignity-

Conscience, honour, dignity-

Here it is, our sacred army.

Reach out with the palm of your hand.

You can brave fire if that is its demand.

Its face is high and marvellous.

Dedicate your brief century to it.

You might not end up victorious,

But you will die a human for it.

By Bulat Okudjava (1924- 1997)

What I Will
I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. I know
intimately that skin
you are hitting. It
was alive once
hunted stolen

I will
not dance to your drummed
up war. I will not pop
spin break for you. I
will not hate for you or
even hate you. I will
not kill for you. Especially
I will not die
for you. I will not mourn
the dead with murder nor
suicide. I will not side
with you nor dance to bombs
because everyone else is
dancing. Everyone can be
wrong. Life is a right not
collateral or casual. I
will not forget where
I come from. I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your

I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

By Suheir Hammad (b 1973)


Out of the night that covers me, 

      Black as the pit from pole to pole, 

I thank whatever gods may be 

      For my unconquerable soul. 

In the fell clutch of circumstance 

      I have not winced nor cried aloud. 

Under the bludgeonings of chance 

      My head is bloody, but unbowed. 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 

      Looms but the Horror of the shade, 

And yet the menace of the years 

      Finds and shall find me unafraid. 

It matters not how strait the gate, 

      How charged with punishments the scroll, 

I am the master of my fate, 

      I am the captain of my soul. 


Ahimsa 14 – The Path Of Human Dignity

To stand up and face the world,

To break free from the shackles of fear,

To bravely raise the voice for every worthy cause,

To defy the atrocities committed by man!

Dangerous trends that can set fire to golden dreams,

Disturbances tearing the human race to pieces,

Dignity of man questioned through strife and massacre,

Denial syndromes refusing to acknowledge the truth!

Let me rise up to fight for human rights and freedom,

Let me not stoop down heartless and callous,

Let me not stand like a dumb fool watching others strike,

Let me condemn every act of hatred and violence!

Let us protect and preserve the world together,

Let us join hands to work and grow together,

Let us believe in the strength of love and compassion together,

Let us follow the path of ‘Ahimsa’ with human dignity!

By Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna Menon