Somewhere, in the bottom of a musty box, tucked away in a dark corner of my parent’s house is a coil-bound, Hilroy notebook with a poorly handwritten copy of Desiderata taking up its last two pages. Desiderata is a prose poem I first encountered on a poster, tacked to the cork board wall beside my seat in my grade 11 French class.
The power and meaning of the poem moved me so greatly that I copied into my notebook over the period of a week, during the 5 minutes I had between the moment I arrived in the classroom to the moment the class bell rang.
I have thought about Desiderata from time-to-time and from time-to-time I’ve paraphrased its wisdom when, in conversation or quietly to myself, it seemed appropriate. Last night, I had the urge to read it. Rather than toss my parents basement to find it, I turned to Google for some help. Seriously…what did we ever do without the internet?
Desiderata, which is Latin for “things desired”, was written in 1927 by American writer Max Ehrmann. The poem was not popular in Ehrmann’s life time, but after it was accidentally misappropriated, it went “viral” in the late 60s and early 70s; its message being perfectly suited for ethos of that time.
To me, Desiderata reads like instructions from an owner’s manual for our earthly selves. Its language is simple and approachable. Its messages are deep but feel like reminders rather than revelations. It is the distillation of all the best advice you’ve ever received and the most insightful wisdom you’ve ever read; refined, concentrated, purified. It requires no analysis or unpacking. To read it is to understand it; intuitively, not with the mind, but the soul.
Without further ado, I share with you, Desiderata.
By Max Ehrmann, 1927
Go placidly amid the noise and 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 the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and 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.
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 with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.