I was sat on a train a couple of weeks ago, on my way to see Arcade Fire with a group of friends, when an older fellow started chatting to us. He’d had a drink or two, but we didn’t mind because we were also sharing a couple of bevvies on the train.
He began telling us about days gone by, and how he used to work as a comedian/compère at a holiday camp in Bognor Regis. Then all of a sudden, he began reciting’Desiderata. He recounted the poem perfectly, without a stumble. And you know what, the words truly resonated with me.
“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 to 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 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 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 perennial as the grass.
Take kindly to 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 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.”
Beautiful words. And, it is safe to say the five of us sat on the train that day took those words to heart.
But who wrote Desiderata?
Max Erhmann was a writer, a poet and an attorney from Indiana. He wrote Desiderata, Latin for ‘desired things’ , in 1927. He wrote the poem at age 54, but never enjoyed it’s recognition.
In 1956, eleven years after Erhmann’s death, the Reverend Frederick Kates included Desiderata in a compilation of devotional materials for his congregation in Baltimore. The compilation included the church’s foundation date: “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.D 1692”. Consequently, the date of the text’s authorship was (and still is) widely mistaken as 1692, the year of the church’s foundation.
On August 26, 2010, a bronze statue of Ehrmann sitting on a park bench was unveiled in his home town of Terre Haute, with the sculpture created by Bill Wolfe. On a nearby walkway, some lines of the poem are also available to be read by passers-by.
When life troubles you, read Desiderata. It will warm your heart, and help you to remember the important things in life.