I was reading Jo Walton’s Among Others a while back and her character Mor says to herself, “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” I knew Mor was quoting someone but I couldn’t remember who, so of course I had to google it and of course it’s from Max Ehrmann‘s poem “Desiderata.”
I can’t believe I forgot it. I had a poster of it on my college dorm room wall. I think everyone in Lathrop did.
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 ignorant; they too have their story.
It’s pretty obvious why this resonated so strongly with the counterculture Boomers, in full-blown generational rebellion against their parents’ post-World War II boosterism and consumerism.
…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.
Desiderata is Latin for ‘desired,’ which by implication I take Ehrmann to mean things reached for but not necessarily grasped. So the poem is meant to be a living, continuing, not always successful aspiration, not an end goal of achievement and perfection.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
mean a lot more to me now than they did when I was 17, as do these
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.
He read Whitman for sure
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And of course
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
The poem ends
…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 cheerful. Strive to be happy.
I wonder what I did with that poster.