A Remedy Much Desired – Suicide & Three Poems by Max Ehrmann

Fun, colorful, classic. The first two clash with the third, because when we think of classic, especially in fashion, we think modest, elegant, subdued.  Designer Kate Spade made the trio possible for professional women, the idea that classic could also be fun and colorful. She created something with a bit of verve, without letting go of the classic feel. The sense of power emboldened women, the statement purse, the frill or the print, like how the right lipstick brings out the brave self. She shared a lot with the world and her story has a sad ending.

For those who struggle, here is a remedy much desired for the times, one Kate Spade and military Veterans and other troubled souls might have benefited from before they chose suicide.

desiderata – Latin for things desired

I finished a collection of Max Ehrmann’s poetry titled The Desiderata of Happiness and though many are nearly a century old, it is a welcome change amid the dearth of optimism today. The marginalized voice and the obsession with topics such as racism, divorce, disease would have us believe the world is darkness, that life is one great abyss where we teeter on the edge. I read three poetry collections for my graduate studies in English: about miscarriage, black women throughout history, a Lesbian outlook on life and love. They had compelling lines and poems, were gimmicky at times, often vulgar and saturated with intent. By contrast, Ehrmann writes from a different place with a different message, one of quiet reflection, balance, the possibility of order beyond human comprehension.

The poet was famous for his prose poem of the same name, given by a rector to his congregation and an army doctor to his soldiers; the inspirational words recognize the sham and the drudgery and broken dreams in the world, and suggest another course.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  (link to poem in full here, Desiderata)

Here’s a farewell to the troubled or restless souls who found life too much for them.

 

Sleep

Sleep quietly, now that
the gates of the day are
closed. Leave tomorrow’s
problems for tomorrow.

The earth is peaceful.
Only the stars are abroad;
and they will not
cause you any trouble.

May those sadly departed souls rest peacefully. This second poem would encourage us to step away from the ‘shallow jest’ and ‘coarse good cheer’ we encounter in society and social media, to return to the pageantry of the night sky with someone we love and enjoy, to escape the madness of the false worlds we inhabit, even create. Would it be possible, even amid the worst of it, with burdens so overwhelming, so life-sucking, soul-killing, that an escape with a friend or a lover could lighten the load?

 

Away

I weary of these noisy nights,
Of shallow jest and coarse “good cheer,”
Of jazzy sounds and brilliant lights.
Come, Love, let us away from here.

Let us lay down this heavy load;
And, side by side, far from the town,
Drive on some lovely country road;
And, wondering, watch the sun go down.

What time is left to us, come, Love.
The woods, the fields, shall make us whole;
The nightly pageantry above
Our little world, keep sweet our soul.

No peace this city’s madness yields—
A tawdry world in cheap veneer.
Out there the lovely woods and fields.
Come, Love, let us away from here.

Professors might find the ode obsolete, the inspirational poem dull, but after fancy cocktails, a plain draught of cool water is a return to what is right and good, and most of all, vital.

Ehrmann was an optimist, but not without a keen eye on for social truth. His thoughtful verse about a particular moment in a friend’s life shows us our ugly self, that maybe we have a choice, to not be Henry.

A Piece of Toast

Noonday

Henry and I have ordered
our lunch and are waiting.
Here, in this beautiful dining
room, we both take our meals,
often at the same table.
Henry is rich, self-made.
he talks well of financial
matters, rarely of anything else.
his ideal, to found a fortune.
The Negro waiter brings our lunch.
Henry flies into a rage. “I ordered
a piece of well-done toast!
Are you hard of hearing! What do
you mean bringing me this?”
. . . etc. his face flushed.

This afternoon I stood beside
Henry’s grave. Eleven
years have gone down the
river of time.
I could not help remembering the
day Henry lost his temper.
A piece of toast – what a
very little thing in the great
mystery and tragedy of life!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline,  24 hours, 1-800-273-8255

Jun 13, 2018

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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