Go placidly amid the noise and the 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 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 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, 1948

The forty-six line poem is a long commentary on how one should consider their day to day life. This includes how to keep what’s important in front of mind, balance one’s career, inner peace, and aspirations. While also striving to be a good person in a world that doesn’t always treat you fairly.

Desiderata’, a word which means “things desired” in Latin,  is a widely popular prose poem that was written in the early 1920s. Ehrmann copyrighted the work in 1927 but a few years later gave out copies without copyright, therefore, forfeiting his US copyright. This is lead to the prose poem’s wide circulation and benefited its popularity. 

It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that this poem reached its widest audience. Spoken word recordings were made in those decades, allowing even more of the world to hear to and benefit from Ehrmann’s tenants of happiness. Due to the universal appeal of the text it was printed on posters in the seventies and distributed in that form. 

The poem has been read and quoted in a variety of high profile public settings since its publication. These include readings by American and Canadian political leaders, actors, authors, and comedians.

Poem Analysis

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