Saturday, March 5, 2011


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 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.

Some time ago I was invited to make a speech at an 18th birthday. The young lady who had turned 18 is the daughter of a friend of mine and I have known her for many years. The theme of my speech was a quotation from George Bernard Shaw, words in which I strongly believe: “Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.” Malcolm Fraser quoted only the first couple of words of that sentence – “Life was not meant to be easy” - and was pilloried by the press of the day for being an unfeeling and uncaring silvertail who was out of touch with the economic hardship of the community. Had he quoted the entire sentence the press may have been less harsh towards him.

I concluded my speech by quoting the lines at the end of the Desiderata: “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

The word “Desiderata” is Latin for “desired things”, the singular being “desideratum”. In the context of the poem, the meaning is closer to “essential things”.

The Desiderata was on a lot of walls as posters in the 60’s but these days is viewed as somewhat corny.

Have we become too sophisticated and cynical to still be able to appreciate its message?

There has been confusion in the past as to the origins of the Desiderata. Many of the posters that featured it back in the 60’s and 70’s had the additional words “Found in Old St Paul’s Church, Baltimore, 1692”.

The author was, in fact, one Max Ehrmann (1872-1945), a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, He wrote in his diary "I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift -- a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods." It is believed that the Desiderata is what he was referring to.

The confusion as to authorship has come about in that around 1959, the Rev. Frederick Kates, the rector of St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. He handed out copies of the Desiderata with the words "Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore 1692” at the top of the page, the church having been founded in 1692.

In the years that followed, the handout was recopied and distributed with the St Paul’s Church notation forming part of the work. The belief that the words dated back to 1692 was no doubt considered to be part of its charm, especially at a time when opposition to the war in Vietnam was increasing.

When Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a copy of the Desiderata was found near his bedside table and it was discovered that he proposed to use it in his Christmas card. The widespread publicity that followed g fame to the poem, as well as emphasising the mistaken authorship.

As for the rector of St Paul’s Church, he has reached the point where he has rejected the message of the Desiderata. According to a 1977 report in the Washington Post: "I'm sick of it," said the Rev. Halsey M. Cook, rector of Old St. Paul's, "I've been dealing with it 40 times a week for 15 years. Forty times a week."

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