Here is something I never knew until alerted to the fact by my friend Rosie’s recent blog post . The poem to follow was written by a man named Max Ehrmann, who lived in my home town of Terre Haute, Indiana.
Whenever I come across this poem–or line from it, on a greeting card or whatever–I am always fond of it. The advice and observations are so nice and straightforward: “do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” That’s so true! As I get older I find that so much of life is simply recognizing, over and over again, that certain things are true. The are usually quite obvious things, that I “know” already. And yet, on some level, in order to live a good life, it helps to be reminded. Again and again. Which is I guess why we have certain poems and mantras that we pass on and repeat and write on greeting cards, motivational posters or our Facebook status.
But anyway, the point of this post is to note that this person, who lived in Terre Haute, where I was born, who went DePauw University, where my father went to school, who was a lawyer and a man who worked in the unglamorous but steady fields of meatpacking and overalls production and left these things at a certain point to write–and who thus probably had many of the same thoughts as any writer who gives up one identity to embrace another where one’s achievements, or public notice of same, is uncertain–wrote this:
Go placidly amidst 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 the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious 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 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 shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
As a note for those who like me do not speak Latin — Desiderata means “things wanted or needed, longed for, desired.” It could be that each little piece of advice is something that the writer feels we all need.. Or it could be that they are ideals he desires to emulate.