Hearts at Work
A Column by James Tipton
(Re-printed by Request)
“…it is still a beautiful world.”
At a recent party, one of our devoted El Ojo readers told me she had saved the column I wrote several years ago about the once popular inspirational piece “Desiderata.” She suggested I print it again, because she thought it spoke so directly to the expatriate community here at Lakeside, and so….
Max Ehrmann, a Terre Haute, Indiana lawyer and poet, penned the memorable “Desiderata” in the 1920s–although when it was “discovered” in the 1960s it was mistakenly attributed to “St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692” (the rector at St. Paul’s was not amused, dealing, he says, with the confusion “40 times a week for 15 years”).
Max Ehrmann recorded in his diary that he had wanted to leave as part of his legacy “a humble gift—a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.” Leonard Nimoy, in character as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, recorded it on Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (1968). Les Crane’s spoken-word recording of Desiderata reached #8 on Billboard Magazine charts in 1971. Welsh actor Richard Burton, who certainly had one of the finest voices of the 20th century, read Desiderata on his two-cassette, A Richard Burton Anthology of Classic Poetry (1978). The piece, so popular in the 60s and 70s, was even parodied in a National Lampoon version called “Deteriorata” (1972).
Television audiences have heard “Desiderata” recited by Johnny Cash and Joan Crawford, and it even fell softly from those sultry lips of a long-ago fantasy of mine, Ali McGraw. It has appeared in magazines like Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and New Woman. Artistic renditions hang in homes, offices, clinics, schools, courts, and even prisons. Some of us here at Lakeside have owned it in the past and some perhaps still have it with us here in Mexico (where, incidentally, several Spanish versions exist as well).
Its simple wisdom has served as a guide to millions.
Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann
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 the dull and the 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 own soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
During his life Max Ehrmann remained largely unknown as a writer. Then decades after his death, “Desiderata” became extremely popular…but by mistake attributed to another source. Although I loaned away the collection I had of some of his other work, I do have the final two stanzas from his poem, “A Prayer,” lines that some Lakesiders might resonate with:
Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am; and keep ever burning before my vagrant steps the kindly light of hope.
And though age and infirmity overtake me, and I come not within sight of the castle of my dreams, teach me still to be thankful for life, and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet; and may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still.