“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 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.”
Desiderata and Old St. Paul’s Church
The history of the prose poem Desiderata is full of myth, legal proceedings and questions.
Legend has it that Desiderata was from “Old Saint Paul’s Church,“ that it was inscribed on the wall of the church in the late 17th century. The real story is that the Rev. Frederick Ward Kates, the rector of the church from 1956 to 1961, used the words of Desiderata in a mimeographed booklet he gave to his parishioners to read. On the cover of the booklet was the church’s name and year it was founded: “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, 1692.” The two became linked together and still today it is hard to tear them apart.
A Baltimore authority on early English literature said, “This work, as it reads now, was not written in 1692. The words are not those of the seventeenth century, nor is the composition.”
Desiderata Copyright Issues
Max Ehrmann obtained federal copyright No. 962402 on the words (then untitled) on January 3, 1927 under the name of “Indiana Publishing Company;” Mr. Ehrmann bequeathed the copyright to his widow Bertha upon his death in 1945; Bertha Ehrmann renewed the copyright in 1954; Bertha Ehrmann bequeathed the copyright to her nephew Richmond Wight upon her death in 1962; Richmond Wight assigned the copyright for value to Robert L. Bell in 1971.2
Mr. Bell acquired the copyright to Desiderata at great financial risk. “At the time,” recalls Bell, “I was president of Bruce Humphries, a publishing company that was starving for lack of capital, which owned the publishing rights to Desiderata and which owed me $16,000 in back salary. I was having an incredible struggle trying to support my wife and four children, one of whom was in college. I owned loans against Bruce Humphries and, in a court procedure, agreed to relinquish my liens in exchange for the publishing rights to Desiderata. Then I took every cent I had and bought the copyright from Richmond Wight, nephew and heir to the Ehrmann works.”1