Desiderata

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.

These lines

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.

13 thoughts on “Desiderata

  1. Karen Lauterwasser says:

    I had one too; it is probably in my attic still, along with the ubiquitous “Building a Rainbow” poster. I don’t throw a lot of things away, although I probably should.

    I seem to recall a narration of it that hit the radio waves as well.

    And about “gracefully surrendering the things of youth”? That’s for wimps – I am not ready yet…

    Like

  2. Robbin Stokes says:

    I may not surrender all things of my youth but I will surrender the expectation that I can do everything as well as I did then… with the same recovery time! I can push and do (nearly) as much- but takes me 2 days to recover! I really, really like this poem- and strive to live the tenets. Maybe it should be posted in the schools today- and in big business HR offices?

    Like

  3. Jodi Darby says:

    Brings back my hippie-chick days when I too had the poster on my wall. We thought deeply in those days (herbally and/or pharmaceutically assisted no doubt), but we sort of skipped over the “surrendering the things of youth” part. I don’t think I want to do that gracefully. More like I am constantly nurturing my inner-child and hope I will have the courage and presence of mind to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”.

    Like

  4. Diane says:

    I think “Desiderata” was hanging in every other building in America for two decades. Our family doctor had a huge framed copy of it on his waiting room wall up until ca 1980.

    Like

  5. Kathryn says:

    Goodness! I too had forgotten about this poem, also once holding pride of place on my dorm room wall. Thank you for bringing this back to me, and so many others. Off to find a poster!

    Like

    • The original publisher, Dutton, was sold and my editor lost her job, so the Liams lost their home. Since then I’ve brought them back into e-print, which I imagine is where you found them. In the meantime I concentrated on the Kates, a couple of Coastie thrillers and an historical trilogy. I don’t know that I have another Liam story in me at this point, but never say never.

      Like

      • prairillon says:

        FictFact has just announced we are to have a new Aurora Teagarden from Charlaine Harris after a 13-year hiatus. Never say never, for sure!

        Like

  6. prairillon says:

    I had the same poster, of course. It hung right next to “If you want to sail big ships, you must go where the water is deep.” The ‘motivational’ posters we have around school these days are much more straightforward and less lyrical, but I still like the “for you are crunchy and good with ketchup” feel of that one.

    Another bit of free verse that has stuck with me is this: http://www.westonpriory.org/esales/lyrics/Wherever%20You%20Go.pdf I don’t know why, exactly. It certainly has its saccharin bits. “… the clarity and care with which we have loved others” is a beautiful phrase, though, and a goal for which to strive, I think. In my “ooh, let’s see what’s in THAT drawer!” sieve of a brain, it is nestled next to the lyrics of “For Good” from Wicked. “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

    Like

  7. MAUREEN TUOHY says:

    I, too, had that on my wall in my first apartment…I had some other great ones also but I most likely tossed them out on one of my moves…:(

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s