Wellbeing and World Poetry

Elevate artist David Davies looks at how World Poetry Day links to our health.


Swifts turn in the heights of the air;
higher still turn the invisible stars.
When day withdraws to the ends of the earth
their fires shine on a dark expanse of sand.
from ‘Distances’ by Philip Jaccottet, translated from French by Derek Mahon


Many of the things we care about most seem the hardest to talk about. Our hopes, feelings and memories; our seasons, nature and wildlife; our roots, background, culture and family members; our friends, jobs, language and our health. Feelings, like all these things, often seem hard to pin down and therefore often hard to express and share.


I want to be your friend
Forever and ever without break or decay.
When the hills are all flat
And the rivers are all dry,
When it lightens and thunders in winter,
When it rains and snows in summer,
When Heaven and Earth mingle —
Not till then will I part from you.
Anonymous, china, 1st century BC


Poetry can be a simple and powerful way for us to make sense of ourselves in the world. Reading poetry, like writing poetry, is a creative activity – the benefits of reading to one another; giving and receiving, and the sense of sharing and fun – can be a great contribution to our wellbeing and a great link with our memory.

This month sees World Poetry Day (celebrated on 21st March 2021) which highlights how poetry shared internationally can reaffirm our common humanity. Our poetry demonstrates that we, as individuals everywhere in the world, share similar questions, feelings and the same need for care and wellbeing. Like our NHS which relies so much on staff who originate from all around the world – Salisbury District Hospital alone has staff from over 70 countries – poetry conveys a sense of connection, contribution and diversity and shows how our wellbeing depends on this.


…where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
from ‘Encounter’ by Czeslaw Milosz, translated from Polish by Czeslaw Milosz & Lillian Vallee


In Alice Oswald’s poem Memorial, she reworks a translation of Homer’s Iliad from the original Greek, first written down around 2800 years ago. She begins:


Like a wind-murmur
Begins a rumour of waves
One long note getting louder…


The poetry traditions from around the world have a huge variety of spoken and written forms: proverbs, riddles, nursery rhymes, legends, myths, epic journeys, prayers, chants, songs, and dramatic performances. Poems pass on knowledge, cultural and social values and collective memory and play a crucial part in keeping our cultures and backgrounds alive. Poetry also connects between generations and across time – from our parents, our childhood, our school days and through our families. We use snippets of poetry in our conversations and our letters, and in our celebration and memory of others.


Someone would like to have you for her child
Akan people, Africa


Write your own poem

Choose one word from any of the quotes in the article. Write the word vertically down the page, next to the margin. Use each letter to begin a word for a line – keep the lines short. Or, choose one line from any of the poetry quotes in this article. Use each of the words as the beginning of a line of writing. Share your results with us – see below.

Find out more about poetry


More from David and the Elevate artists

Download ‘Elevate your mood’ Issue 7 (pdf)

Send us your contribution

We love to include some of your own reflections in future posts and in our monthly print edition ‘Elevate your mood’ or quarterly printed tabloid ‘Take the time’. Why not write a few lines, try a poem or send us picture on the general theme of spring? Email to ArtCare or send to ArtCare, Block 29, Salisbury District Hospital, Salisbury SP2 8BJ.