Saturday, February 28, 2009

Desiderata: not quite as old as we thought but still an inspiration

"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here..."

The Desiderata is such a famous writing, for Americans, anyway, there is probably not one of you who haven't read it at one time or another. Usually, at the very bottom, is found the inscription

"Found in Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, 1692."

That is part of the mystique. It fits that it should be old and mysterious.

But, many of you reading this also know it isn't nearly that old at all. Take a few moments to read the elegant prose one more time if you haven't read it for a while. Then, we'll explore it's origins closer. (Click it to enlarge)
In point of fact, the Desiderata (Literally, "Things to be desired") was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, an attorney, author and playwright from Terre Haute, Indiana, son of Bavarian immigrants. Mr. Ehrmann wrote more than 20 books and pamplets, and many essays and poems that were published in various newspapers and magazines. But none were more acclaimed or more loved than his prose-poem "Desiderata."


  1. It is a great piece of writing! I think everyone could find something of relevance in there, something to inspire. I'm not entirely surprised to hear it's relatively modern because of the language - I can understand it, unlike other 17th century works. That's always a relief.

  2. An antidote.....

    Go Raucously amid the peace and silence,
    And remember what fun can be had in shouting.
    As far as possible, without compromise, pick fights with strangers.
    Shout your lies fiercely, shout down the others,
    -wimps and losers, who cares what they think.

    Seek out loud and vituperous persons, for they are your kin.
    If you only compare yourself to others,
    you'll see what losers they are.
    Despise their achievements, as well as their ant-like plans.

    Be obsessed with yourself, your greatness.
    That's really neat, y'know.
    Be careful in your deals,
    Rip the other guy off first.
    Before he can do it to you.
    But hey, other guys use wicked cunning,
    You could pick up some neat new scams.

    Be yourself. Lie a lot.
    Get what you can, while it lasts,
    Ignore older folk.
    What the hell do they know?
    Stay tough, The shit might get deeper.
    But don't sweat it,
    It's cool to be an outsider.

    Obey no rules, burn yourself out!
    You are a child of the universe, no less than rock bands, or Paris Hilton,
    You have a right to be here,
    And whether or not its clear to others,
    The universe rotates around you as it should.

    Therefore, disdain god, whoever he thinks he is,
    And whatever mad things you get into,
    In the crazy chaos of life, party on.
    Theres no beauty that can't be improved by a marker pen and ten cans of spray paint,
    So spray it,
    And f*** the lot of them!

    Yes, I recall Desiderata, and the false myths about it being on an old, moss-covered tombstone in a New England churchyard.

    I did try to abide by some of its urgings, I suppose I still do, I like to go placidly amidst the noise and strife, I like being calm in the midst of chaos.
    But sometimes I want to yell in libraries..

  3. @A. - It is inspiring, but in reality it is hard to put into practice for most of us. Yes, the language is decidedly non-17th century and I am surprised we all got sucked into the myth of time. It wasn't the author's fault; he didn't try to make it something it wasn't. Somebody else somewhere along the line. The say this writing was connected to the politician Adlai Stevenson in some way during his presidential campaigns. I don't remember anything about that, but I read it. Perhaps it was the political machines that started the time myth (so they wouldn't have to give proper credit. Heh.)

    @Soubriquet - Your comments have been far too infrequent lately, but when you do show up you make it worth my while. I love it. :)

  4. Baltimore is not in New England. :)

  5. Ok, ok. So you weren't thinking about Baltimore back then. I get it. :)

  6. But they almost surely have mossy old headstones.

  7. 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.
    This is my favorite part. I try to remember it if nothing else. Who are you?

  8. This is quite good. I never read it all the way through before - it was quoted a lot in the school yearbooks I worked on, so I 'knew' it without really knowing it.

    I did know about Baltimore's whereabouts more precisely, though this did not affect the yearbooks.

  9. Baltimore? Of course it's not in New England, I knew that, it's in County Cork, Ireland.

    No, I had forgotten the exact attribution of the mossy stone, I thought it might be further north.
    Much quoted in the hippy era, I remember posters of it tacked up in peoples rooms in college.
    I wish I could live more in tune with it.

  10. I really, really, super really enjoyed reading that poem. Never heard of it before this. Thanks.

  11. @Ettarose - Different parts of this seem to stick with different people. For me it has always been the "You are a child of the universe..." part.

    @Lidian - I have seen parts of it used in many places as well. As Soubriquet says, it was a big part of the "hippy" philosophy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not their philosophy so much as simply the general mind set of that era. I am glad you finally read the whole.

    @Soubriquet - Yes, it is probably still somewhat popular as a poster on dorm walls even today, as each succeeding generation believes they are the ones to have discovered it. No matter - it's message is as timely to the present generation as ever.

    I share your wish. But I still like your version as well. :)

    @Chica - Many people's lives are actually changed by these simple thoughtful words. So, If I have accidently been the instrument for introducing this timeless statement of peace and wisdom to one of my most favorite people in the whole world, then I am just bursting right now!

  12. I have always found inspiration in the words of the desiderata and especially at the moment it seems very apt in my life.

  13. I haven't seen this in a long time - thanks for repeating it. It's interesting the parts of it I paid attention to then and what strikes me now (the part about growing old gracefully seems singularly apt).

    I've been to Baltimore. I've not been to New England. Or County Cork.



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