A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
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.
“Desiderata” (Latin: “things desired”) is a 1920s prose poem by the Indiana attorney and writer Max Ehrmann (1872-1945). Although he copyrighted it in 1927, he distributed copies of it as a Christmas card without a required copyright notice during 1933, thereby forfeiting his US copyright. Largely unknown in the author’s lifetime, its use in devotional and spoken word recordings in the 1960s called it to the attention of the world.
An odd misconception has arisen over the authorship of the poem, adding to its popular appeal by giving the poem an almost divine aura. The mistaken attribution may have originated in 1942 when a depressed woman gave her psychiatrist Merrill Moore a copy of the poem without the name of the author, allowing him to hand out thousands of unattributed copies to his patients and soldiers during World War II. The poem was copied and re-copied and passed around hand to hand in a spirit of good will, and Ehrmann’s connection to the poem was largely lost even though his widow published a collection of his poems in 1948.
A legend was woven around the text saying that it had been written by an anonymous monk and that it had been found later on a church pew in Baltimore two hundred years ago. The legend can be traced to a version printed in 1959 by the Reverend Frederick Kates who handed out unattributed copies to his congregation. Beside the title of the poem, Kates had included the words “Saint Paul’s Church, 1692.” The reverend intended these words to identify, not the origin of the poem, but rather his Baltimore church and the year of its founding. But the apocryphal origin-myth has proved popular, and many people still believe it.
Compilation and historical text copyright 2020 Michael Simms