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Desiderata -- Max Ehrmannn

Guest poerm submitted by Sidharth Jaggi:
(Poem #761) Desiderata
 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 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 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 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

 Be cheerful.

 Strive to be happy.
-- Max Ehrmannn
Written 1927.
Copyright 1976 Robert L. Bell.

According to some reference books, Desiderata is still sometimes thought to
have been 'found' at Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore and to date back to
1692. It was actually written and copyrighted by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) in
1927, the copyright was renewed in 1948 and 1954 by Bertha K. Ehrmann. It
was copyrighted by Robert L. Bell in 1976. In 1956, the rector of St. Paul's
Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of mimeographed
inspirational material for his congregation. Someone who subsequently
printed it asserted that it was found in Old St. Paul's Church, dated 1692.
The year 1692 was the founding date of the church and has nothing to do with
the poem. See Fred D. Cavinder, "Desiderata", TWA Ambassador, Aug. 1973, pp.

I like the Desiderata. I really really like it. Like, y'know, I dig it. I
like the tone of it - it's not overly preachy, but just full of good stuff.
I like to imagine a big daddy figure saying such things to me when I'm
feeling lonely or down. The lines are the ropes religions are made of; when
people are feeling lonely or down they like to imagine a big daddy figure
saying such things to them. It just reeks of tolerance, goodwill to humanity
and the fellowship of man. Good stuff. Which I found really strange when I
first read about its supposed provenance, in a Protestant church in the
bastion of Puritanism. Come to think of it, the Roaring Twenties are just as

But, you know, I really really like the Desiderata.

Oh, general fact - all the people I've forced to read the above and comment
on it have, without exception, suddenly laughed / snickered / sniggered when
they came to the line

"Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."


And, of course, when I want a change there's always...


 Go placidly amid the noise and waste, remembering what comfort may be found
in owning a piece thereof. Avoid quiet and passive persons unless you are in
need of sleep.

 Rotate your wheels, it is what they are for.

 Speak glowingly of others greater than yourself, heed well their advice
even though they be turkeys. Know what to kiss, and when.

 Consider that two wrongs never make a right. However, three do.

 Wherever possible put people on hold and leave for the day. Be comforted
that, in the face of all aridity and disillusionment and despite the
changing fortunes of time, there will always be a big future in computer

 Remember the Alamo. Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and
mutilate. Know yourself. If you do not, look in the mirror - that's you.
Exercise caution in your daily affairs, especially with those persons
closest to you. That turkey on your left for instance.

 Fall not in love, it will stick to your face and smell of tuna.

 Gracefully surrender the things of youth, burgers, coffee and obesity.

 Hire people with hooks.

 For a good time, Listen to a US foreign policy speech.

 Take heart amid the deepening gloom that at least your cat is being fed
well; reflect that whatever misfortune may be your lot, at least you don't
live in Ohio.

 You are a fluke of the universe: you have no right to be here. Whether or
not you can hear it, the Universe is laughing behind your back.

 Therefore make your peace with God, whether you consider him to be clown or
President of the disUnited States.

 With all its hopes, dreams and McDonalds, the world will continue to

     -- National Lampoon

One of the above two hangs on my bedroom wall - you have three guesses as to
which one :)


34 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

maladina said...

When I saw the first line I wondered, "Now where can I find 'Deteriorata' so
I can post it?" but I see that the poster of it has supplied that
commentary himself. Margaret Atwood once pointed to the National Lampoon --
which was staffed and written by Canadians -- as exemplifying a particularly
Canadian form of humour; and Leslie Nielsen insists that his own comic
performances, which are based on the premise that that which is
conventionally but unquestioningly taken seriously is often on just a
moment's reflection intrinsically ludicrous, also grow out of his being
Canadian. Incidentally, "Desiderata" was a favourite of Pierre Trudeau's --
or perhaps it is just that "Desiderata" was ubiquitous in pop culture in the
60s and 70s, appearing in one manifestation as a voiceover to a somewhat
throbbing anthem on the hit parade -- and he quoted the line that "no doubt
the universe is unfolding as it should" on more than one occasion. I wonder
if there's any connection. Certainly Pierre Trudeau was a man of vast gifts,
but a sense of humour wasn't one of them.

Pace Mr Jaggi's comments about "Desiderata" having commonly been referred to
as having been found in Old St Paul's Church, Baltimore ("It just reeks of
tolerance, goodwill to humanity and the fellowship of man. Good stuff. Which
I found really strange when I first read about its supposed provenance, in a
Protestant church in the bastion of Puritanism") Baltimore is hardly the
bastion of Protestantism! Baltimore was founded as a colony of refuge for
English Catholics. Perhaps Mr Jaggi is thinking of Boston, but in any case a
Yankee Congregationalist church wouldn't be named St. Paul's, or indeed have
a patronal saint at all. Old St. Paul's is undoubtedly Episcopalian (ie,
American Anglican). Not that Protestantism and tolerance, goodwill and
fellowship are necessarily excluded by Protestantism: Harriet Beecher Stowe
was the daughter of a famous Evangelical Protestant -- indeed,
Congregationalist, ie Puritan-descended -- preacher you know.

Martin DeMello said...

Speaking of parodies...

[broken link]

thecode said...


In Bell v. Combined Registry Co., 536 F.2d 164 (7th Cir., 1976) the
appeals court found that the copyright was forfeited. The Supreme court
rejected a hearing.

This poem was placed in the public domain the U. S. court of appeals.

Paulreets said...

There is no question that Max E plagiarized "Desiderata".

It is laudable that Bertha, still defends the old plagiarist, but
stolen words are stolen words, even though the theft occured
three (3) centuries ago.

Paulreets said...


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I had a copy of the song on an eight track tape. The tape deck finally chocked on it and half ate the tape. I would be very happy to acquire another copy of the song. In my opinion both versions have merit and both versions encourage one to think about values. If you send me email please use fluke of the universe as subject. Thank you.

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