Back in the nineteen-seventies many people had a kind of little chart on the wall with some very popular words written on it. At the bottom of the words was a note saying that this prose poem had been found in a Baltimore church in 1692. It transpires that this was a lie.
The “Desiderata”, as the poem was titled, was actually written in about 1920 by American poet Max Ehrmann. In 1971 Les Crane’s recording of it resulted in a number 6 hit in the UK pop music charts. This uneasy mix of pious speaking with a background of cheesy singing is quite painful to listen to these days, but I’m quite fond of the version on the film above.
The words aren’t particularly religious, but they are quietly comforting and inspiring in a common sense kind of way. Fractions of the words are eminently quotable and memorable. For that reason, I decided to post the poem here:
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 to 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 perennial as the grass.
Take kindly to 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 in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann c.1920