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Things Desired

Inside Old Saint Pauls church, Wellington, New...
Image via Wikipedia, Old St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, MD

For those of you who have not encountered the work of Max Ehrmann, (September 26, 1872 – September 9, 1945) he was a German-American poet and spiritual writer. His parents came to the United States from Bavaria in the 1840s and settled in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Max grew up.

With a degree in English from DePauw University, he went on to study at Harvard, majoring in philosophy and law. He returned to his home town in 1898, where he practiced law; served as a deputy state’s attorney; and worked in the family meatpacking business as well as in the overalls manufacturing industry. Not the background, one would think, to produce a poet. But when he turned 40, Max Ehrmann turned his back on the business world and became a writer.

His most famous accomplishment in this field is the world-famous prose poem called “Desiderata”. For years, this work was mistakenly thought to be the work of an anonymous author. It was used in a collection of devotional materials by the Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of St. Paul’s, and was published with the notation: “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692.”

I don’t remember how I came to discover this lovely piece, I only know that as I read these words for the first time, each one found an echo in my heart. The title, in Latin, means things desired.

DESIDERATA

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, for 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 not this 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, 1927

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