By Pat Duffy
Does the UN have an official song?
Does the United Nations have its own official “anthem” or song?
While there is no “mandated
a “Hymn to the United Nations”
was written by the great cellist and composer, Pablo Casals. The Catalonian maestro wrote the
hymn in honour of the Organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary in
It was performed on United
Nations Day at UN Headquarters. The words to the hymn were written by poet
W.H. Auden of the United Kingdom.
Casals and U Thant, UN, 1971
Casals and Auden were brought together in
this unusual collaboration by then United Nations Secretary-General U Thant.
For centuries, poets and musicians have sung in praise of war and celebrated
victories in battles. U Thant was intrigued by the fact that there existed
no hymn to peace. Casals was a personal friend of his, and when approached
by Thant, he readily agreed to write the music. As the Secretary-General
explained, the song was to be based on the preamble to the Charter of the
United Nations. Although it would not be formally adopted as the official
anthem of the United Nations, U Thant hoped it would be performed on
While Casals greatly liked the ideas
contained in the preamble, there was no way he could put music to such a
document. The task to write an appropriate poem, based on the theme of peace
and ideals enshrined in the preamble, fell on W.H. Auden, then regarded as
the greatest living English poet. When a representative of the
Secretary-General approached the poet, he immediately agreed to write the
poem. In three days’ time, Auden finished writing “A Hymn to the United
Nations”, which was then set to music by Casals.
On 24 October 1971, the Orchestra of the
Festival Casals, with Casals as conductor, presented the hymn in a première
performance at UN Headquarters.
To listen to “Hymn to the
United Nations” and see the words, click here:
Do you know the origin of the name, “United Nations”?
United Nations Headquarters, New York
|The name comes from a poem,
“Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, written in 1818 by the British Romantic
poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron.
Byron’s poem contains the lines:
Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
Their children’s lips shall echo them, and say,
'Here, where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day !'
The story goes that Winston
Churchill, a great lover of poetry, recited the lines to Franklin
Roosevelt and his granddaughter on a visit to Washington, D.C. in
1944. After, Byron’s more poetic “United Nations” came
to replace the originally proposed name “Associated Nations”
In the poem “Childe Harold”, among other themes, Byron was writing about all the bloodshed in the many wars in Europe.
With this we are reminded that a
great many (if not all) human creations start with poetic and
artistic vision. And with that thought we will conclude with another
of Byron’s poetic lines:
“a drop of ink may make a million think.”