Saturday, September 3, 2011

No Less than the Trees and Stars


I've had this copy of the Desiderata for about thirty years. That's my best guess. I think I got it in high school, or early on in my college career at Ohio University. It's just a photocopy, and it's littered with thumbtack holes and coffee stains; recently I put it in a frame to keep it protected.

The word "Desiderata" is the plural of the Latin word "desideratum", which means "desired thing". It's a common myth that it was written in the 1600s. I believed that for years. After all, my copy says "Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692". In truth, the poem was written in the 1920s by an American poet named Max Ehrmann (who, like many of my favorite people, was from Indiana). Here's a summary of its confusing history (courtesy of fleurdelis.com):


Around 1959, the Rev. Frederick Kates, the rector of St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. At the top of the handout was the notation, "Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore A.C. 1692." The church was founded in 1692. 


As the material was handed from one friend to another, the authorship became clouded. Copies with the "Old St. Paul's Church" notation were printed and distributed liberally in the years that followed. It is perhaps understandable that a later publisher would interpret this notation as meaning that the poem itself was found in Old St. Paul's Church, dated 1692. This notation no doubt added to the charm and historic appeal of the poem, despite the fact that the actual language in the poem suggests a more modern origin.


When Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a guest in his home found a copy of Desiderata near his bedside and discovered that Stevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards. The publicity that followed gave widespread fame to the poem as well as the mistaken relationship to St. Paul's Church. 

The flower children in San Francisco revived it as part of the peace and love movement. Those of my generation may remember the spoken word recording by Les Crane, which reached #8 on the Billboard charts in 1971.

For me, the sentiment behind the poem articulates the way I wish to live my life. It features concepts that align with all major religious doctrines. So I felt like sharing with you, dear readers. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section... which lines resonate with you?

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 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 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 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 careful.
Strive to be happy.

3 comments:

  1. Just checking to see if comments will post. Apparently Blogger is having some issues, which is why my followers are not showing up. Hm.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I especially like the first line and this line, "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,it is still a beautiful world." I am an eternal optimist, so this suits me perfectly. Thanks for posting this quote; it is great food for thought.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hard to pick a favorite sentiment...I like the third paragraph about comparing yourself to others. Reminds me a bit of Eleanor Roosevelt's quote "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Some of us have self-esteem issues...

    ReplyDelete