365_049 by Canned Muffins, under a Creative Commons licence
Commonwealth Day is an annual event that covers a trans-continental community of some two billion people, often from very different backgrounds. Held in Westminster Abbey, the Commonwealth Observance is a ceremony that promotes international co-operation and knowledge of the achievements of the Commonwealth’s organisations.
Scotland’s National Poet Liz Lochhead was invited to take part alongside an international cast of performers such as Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and South African musician Hugh Masakela. Her Majesty The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Charles were in attendance at the ceremony. The National Poet was commissioned to write a poem on the theme of ‘Connecting Cultures’. Her poem, included below, is an account of the differences between nations, their deeper ties, and it closes – perhaps unusually for a poet – with a declaration that people should be judged not by their words, but by their deeds. We are very glad to be able to publish it here.
I am talking in our lingua franca.
Tell me, do you drive on the left or right?
Is your football team the Botswana Zebras
Or Indomitable Lions of Cameroon?
Can you take me to Junkanoo
And is there mangrove forest?
Is it true that a lightweight business suit
Is the appropriate city-garb and shaking hands
The usual form of greeting?
Are there frigate birds? Diamonds? Uranium?
What is the climate? Is there a typical hurricane season
Or a wind of change?
How many miles of coastline in your country?
Is the currency the Kenyan shilling or the
Brunei dollar — or is it also the word for rain or a blessing?
Do you speak the lingua franca?
Communication can mean correspondence,
Or a connecting passage or channel, can mean
A means of imparting and receiving information such as
Speech, digital media, Facebook, the press and cinema.
Communications can mean means of transporting, especially
Troops or supplies.
A free association of independent member nations bound by
Friendship, loyalty, the desire for
Democracy, equality, freedom and peace.
Remembering how hard fellow feeling is to summon
When Wealth is what we do not have in Common,
May every individual
And all the peoples in each nation
Work and hope and
Strive for true communication —
Only by a shift and sharing is there any chance
For the Welfare of all our people and Good Governance.
Such words can sound like flagged-up slogans, true.
What we merely say says nothing —
All that matters is what we do.