Things Desired – Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

 

April is National Poetry Month, which makes sense. If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?* And here is spring, eluded and long postponed by wintry flurries and storms, yet the sun is shining in the window. The daffodils sprouted, even amid the snow, and the deer have eaten the tulips to the nub.

If prose is narrative on the page, poetry is a dance of words with music and rhythm and meaning which stays with us long after the song is done.

I came across the Latin term desiderata and Googled its meaning: things desired. Max Ehrmann’s didactic poem of the same name also came up as a top result. Written in 1927, the prose poem is his most popular and not well known during his lifetime. An American lawyer and businessman, Ehrmann left industry to write full time at age 40. After his death, the rector at St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore included the poem in devotional materials, Adlai Stevenson had the poem near his bedside and intended to use it in his Christmas cards, and people like Leonard Nimoy and Morgan Freeman found the poem deeply influential in their lives.

The beauty of Desiderata is its tender tone, the wisdom, the words, the appeal and the ultimate truths, ugly and elegant: the peace in silence, the bitterness of comparisons, the confusion of life, the decision to see beauty even in the drudgery. Read it once. Twice. Or twelve times.

*Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

Desiderata

By Max Ehrmann

 

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.

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 with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.