This famous piece of prose insinuated itself into my psyche at an early age. At our cottage in Huntsville, my parents hung the “Desiderata” on the wall of the main floor washroom. So everytime I sat on the toilet as an impressionable young girl on our weekends away, I would read it and try to make sense of what it told me. I believe my parents had become enamoured with the “Desiderata” when Pierre Elliott Trudeau shared it with Canada in one of his speeches. It was apparently a ‘motto’ for how our former, illustrious Prime Minister carried himself in the world… and my parents were fans of Trudeau.
I forgot all about this until a couple of years ago when my son, Jordan, gave us a large poster/plague for Christmas with a picture of a waterfall and the words of the “Desiderata”. This is now hanging in the bedroom.
It was always a mystery to me that these eloquent words of wisdom on how to move through life with grace was not credited to anyone. The poster in our bathroom in the 70’s credited the writing to “anonymous” and the one in my bedroom does not reference an author at all. In writing this post, I did a quick google search and discovered that it was in fact written in 1927 by American writer Max Ehrmann (1872–1945). There was some confusion over this and due to a series of blunders, it was assumed to be written in 1692 by an unknown author and therefore copyright-free. It wasn’t until a spoken word song was released of the “Desiderata” in the early 70’s that the family of the author was able to declare the rightful author and win royalties.
“Desiderata” is a Latin word meaning “Desired Things”. A few choice phrases (“the universe is unfolding as it should”, “be gentle with yourself”, “keep peace with your soul”) have always resonated with me and seem ahead of their time for when this piece was written.
Here is the full prose poem:
Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amidst 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 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 labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy