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  • An anthem for the Earth

KATHMANDU, MAY 24 - Anthems are sung on a wide array of occasions, during flag-hoisting ceremonies, on momentous national days, international sporting events, as well as in schools, colleges and universities on special occasions. But what is an anthem, and what is its significance?

The word ‘anthem’ derives from the Greek word ‘antiphon’, which refers to a musical piece that is performed by a choir or congregation. By definition, an anthem is a celebratory song or composition that eulogises, extols or exalts whatever entity it might represent—be it the motherland or fatherland, sports teams, or educational institutions—and is sung by people who share territories or identities in various forms. Anthems essentially serve to glorify the high points of a shared past, a common culture, or a collective struggle in a group’s history.

National anthems are generally picked from the tunes that have already proven to be popular among citizens, but there are also cases of anthems that have been specially-commissioned. Although most countries have their own anthems, the practice is relatively new, having gained notable popularity in Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Besides countries, there are a number of international organisations, unions and movements that have adopted their own anthems. The global Socialist movement, for instance, is marked by the sound of The Internationale, while the European Union uses an extract from Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. The African Union, on the other hand, has its own unique composition titled Let’s All Unite and Celebrate Together, and while the UN has no official anthem, a Hymn to the UN was performed on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, on October 24, 1971, by the Catalonian maestro Pau Casals, the lyrics to which were attributed to poet WH Auden. The then UN Secretary General U Thant had expressed his hope that this hymn would become the de facto UN anthem over the years.

Is the time then ripe to adopt an anthem for the Earth? What would it be? And which language should it be written in? And what idea should it convey? What occasions should it be sung on?

I believe an Earth anthem is long overdue. For one, such a composition is necessary for paying tribute to Mother Earth, to whom we owe our existence, all our riches and glories.  Secondly, an Earth anthem would make us more conscious of our global citizenship and aware of the responsibilities that come with it. And thirdly, given its broader perspective, it would only enrich our repertoire of already-existing anthems and would be a reminder of the multiple identities that we carry starting from villages to cities to nations and finally the planet Earth.

As far as the language of the Earth anthem is concerned, it would perhaps be best to compose it in English-the global lingua franca, as its primary language, or it could just be a wordless musical piece. In this, one could definitely take inspiration from the anthems of countries such as Spain and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which comprise of instrumental compositions with no official lyrics.

A number of Earth anthems are already available on the Internet, reflecting sincere efforts by individuals and organisations who want to give a voice to our planet. Most of them are very recent attempts, written and produced after 2009, and notably all of them have originated in the West. Majority of these, however, are songs related to environmental activism, and therefore can’t be categorised as Earth anthems in their truest sense; after all, the purpose of an anthem is to eulogise and praise its subject matter, which, in this case, would refer to the planet and its species. An Earth anthem needs to be written with the objective of capturing the voice of all the species inhabiting the Earth, including but not limited to us Homo Sapiens. I’ve made my own attempt to craft a poetic piece in the same vein:

Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/the most beautiful planet in the universe /all the continents and the oceans of the world/united we stand as flora and fauna/united we stand as species of one earth/all the people and the nations of the world/all for one and one for all/united we unfurl the blue marble flag/black, brown, white, different colours/we are humans, the earth is our home.

With the proliferation of social media, and the ease with which one can share one’s work with a large readership now, more and more Earth anthems will no doubt be churned out over the coming years. And perhaps one of these will stand out as representative of the diversity and dynamism that our planet encompasses, and we will finally have an anthem for the Earth.  

The writer is a poet-diplomat

Posted on: 2013-05-25 09:32


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