Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” is a piece that’s a long time favorite of mine. I once gave a copy of this to a friend in the 1990s when she was making a life change and moving to another state to begin anew. It has that kind of import to me.
I actually am thinking of it now as a niece is going off to attend college for the first time. For some reason I’ve a memory of first seeing this poem on a poster in a college dormitory that I was visiting while still in high school. It was at St. Mary’s College (Notre Dame, Indiana), the nearby women’s college to Notre Dame University. I was there for a Notre Dame football weekend with a good friend whose sister was a student at St. Mary’s. “Desiderata” was posted on one of the St. Mary’s dorm room walls and it seemed to exhibit a depth that I had yet to comprehend or experience in my own adolescent existence. After that initial encounter I began to run across the poem at different intervals throughout my life. I never memorized it, however now and then, as I told my niece recently, certain phrases of it continue to pop into my mind at different intervals.
Written in the 1920s by Max Ehrmann, lawyer and poet from Terre Haute, Indiana, “Desiderata” still resonates.
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.
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 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 world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
© Max Ehrmann 1927