Thursday, August 16, 2012


Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann, is my all-time favourite poem. Where some people cling to the words of the Bible or the Koran through arduous, challenging times, I smile at these words.

There is a bit of backstory to how I discovered this poem, though…

Seventeen years ago, before the Internet, I met a girl named Jo at the nightclub I used to haunt, in my home city of Carlisle.

She was beautiful. Brown eyes, olive skin, a perfect body, and she would have earned a Gold Medal in bedroom gymnastics.

It turned out she was not for me… actually, I found out a few weeks later that she was engaged to a police detective in the city, and he had the capacity to get quite annoyed about his girlfriend’s indiscretions… but, ho-hum… I didn’t know that, previously.

So, when she left, the next morning… a little later, I was going to write in my diary (which I still kept, back then) about the previous night.

On the page I was going to write on, I read the words:

“You are a child of the Universe; no less than the trees or the stars. You have a right to be here.”

Jo had scrawled it in there.

She seemed the sort of person who could whip those words from her heart, so I always thought they belonged to her.

We only ever met each other in passing, after that momentous night, but she’ll always be someone important, to me.

It was around 15 years later, when the world was getting to grips with the Internet, that I put those words she wrote to me into a search engine, and found this wonderful poem:


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.

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 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 labours 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.

© Max Ehrmann 1927