Desiderata (1927)

A poem about the most desired and most beautiful in life, which authorship is entangled in an interesting mystery


Author: Sylvia Borissova

Max Ehrmann (1872—1945) / Art sprites

According to some sources, the poem in prose Desiderata (literally in Latin: desired things) dates from 1692 from the wall of Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore and was distributed after the lawyer and poet Max Ehrmann of Terre Haute read it to his friends. However, this urban legend comes from the fact that Frederick W. Kates, rector of the church from 1956 to 1961, gave the parishioners the text to read from his church book, on which was written the name of the church with the year of its construction—1692.

A copy of the poem, originally written in Latin, was also found on the bedside table of American politician and lawyer Adlai Stevenson, who died while preparing Christmas cards with messages mentioning their unknown origins in the 17th century.

Ehrmann defended his copyright in 1927 and for years his wife and heirs kept it, until in 1976 the U.S. Court of Appeals held that Ehrmann allowed a friend to use Desiderata without specifying whose copyright it was. Another legend says that Ehrmann found the manuscript in an ambulance…

The text can still be read to this day on the wall of Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, USA.

We know very well from history, and from personal experience, that the truth is always somewhere in between, between things: it is the inexhaustible source-truth and serenity of these seemingly invisible ‘things’—human principles and values, bright moods and emotions—is what Desiderata’s words will hopefully leave in you after reading them:

DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

—Max Ehrmann, 1927

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