Almost a century has passed since Max Ehrmann, an American writer and lawyer from Indiana, wrote his 1927 prose poem ‘Desiderata’ (Latin word meaning “things that are needed or wanted”). Many who were college students during the heady 1960s will remember the opening line, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…” and the immortal phrase “you are a child of the universe”. Ehrmann’s words still ring true today. Not only do they inspire. They also offer bits of practical wisdom, a philosophy of life, that seafarers and others can live by during these tumultous times. Here is the complete original text, followed by two video clips (in English and Spanish) of ‘Desiderata’ read aloud.
By Max Ehrmann (1927)
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.
Savouring the words
Poems are best heard, not just read silently. The first of the following videos features the voice of Tom O’Bedlam. There is hardly any information online about him, but his rendition of ‘Desiderata’ is certainly one of the best available. The second is a recording of the poem in Spanish (with music) by the late Mexican actor Jorge Lavat (1933 – 2011).