Words to Live By
There are two things I want to quote on this website, the first is Desiderata
written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945). It's source is a matter of
great debate, so for those interested, I included some discussion of where
this work originated. The second . . . well, I
have no idea where the second piece originated, but it's last three lines serve
as an ever important reminder about life and dance.
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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 & clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull & ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud & aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain & 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 future 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.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity & disenchantment
it is 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 imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue & loneliness.
Beyond wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees & 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 & aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery & broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
actual source of this document,
the following question and response to
the sci.classics newsgroup is of note.
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 96 00:00:53 PST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Israel)
Subject: Re: Desiderata
In article <email@example.com>, you write:
> Attached above is the text known as "desiderata".
> I am quite sure there would have been thread concerning this in the past.
> However I am interested whether anything substantial was determined
> from these earlier discussions - or possibly personal research -
> concerning the actual historical source for this quite inspiring text.
From the alt.usage.english FAQ file:
"Desiderata" was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945). In
1956, the rector of St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a
collection of mimeographed inspirational material for his congregation. Someone
who subsequently printed it asserted that it was found in Old St. Paul's Church,
dated 1692. The year 1692 was the founding date of the church and has nothing to
do with the poem. See Fred D. Cavinder, "Desiderata", _TWA
Ambassador_, Aug. 1973, pp. 14-15.
The Desiderata is a very famous poem. Unfortunately, many prints and
reproductions give credit to the wrong source. You may see "found in Old
Saint Paul's Church 1692" or "by anonymous" but this is
incorrect. A copy of the poem was in fact "found" at Old Saint Paul's
Church, but not in 1692. The year "1692" happens to be the date that
the church was established, but there was no structure there at that time. Here
is the story of how this myth-understanding began.
Few people seem to know who wrote it - or when
by Sam McGarrity, Guideposts Associate Editor
Desiderata - a poetic formula for happiness, a gentle urging to be at peace
with God and with life - is known and loved the world over for its words of
reaasurance. Its message, heralded on posters and plaques hanging in homes and
over desks, has comforted and inspired millions of people. Television
audiences have heard it from the lips of Ali McGraw, Jonny Cash and Joan
Crawford. Ann Landersīreaders have found it in her column.
Itīs been printed in Readerīs Digest, Good Housekeeping and New Woman. and
in the sixties hippies passed it out on street corners. In 1972, it was recorded
as a narrative song that sold more than a million copies. Itīs been recited at
weddings and funerals, and just before his death, Adlai Stevenson had planned to
use it as his Christmas greeting.
The wealthy, the poor, the famous and the infamous have used Desiderata as a
guide in changing their lives for the better. Affluent attorneys attest to this.
So do ex-convicts and ex-drug addicts. It has been used in drug rehabilitation
programs. It has been shared in schoolrooms, in courtrooms. Thereīs even a
woman on Park Avenue in New York who has it printed on her hostess apron.
Yet, in spite of the fame of Desiderata, few people seem to know the true
story of its origins. In fact, many people think, mistakenly, that it was
written in the 17th century and inscribed on a wall at St.Paulīs Episcopal
Church in Baltimore. How surprised they are to learn that it was actually
written in 1927 by a stocky, middle-aged, Indiana attorney named Max Ehrmann.
The confusion began one Sunday in the late-fifties. The Reverend Frederick
Ward Kates, then rector of St.Paulīs, liked to distribute copies of
inspirational pieces to his parishioners. That particular Sunday he placed
Desiderata in the pews; it was printed on the churchīs letterhead, which
contained the churchīs date of founding: 1692.
It is thought, that the mimeographed copies passed from hand to hand until it
landed on the desk of an editor. Seeing the date 1692, the editor assumed the
piece was in the public domain, had Desiderata printed up, stuck the name of the
church and the date underneath, and so began a massive theft of a copyrighted,
This created a costly and frustrating predicament for Robert L. Bell of
Melrose, Massachusetts, who in 1967 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 Ihad and bought the copyright from Richmond
Wight, nephew and heir to the Ehrmann works.
More Historical Facts
Mr. Ehrmann, who was born in 1872, entered Harvardīs School of Philosophy at
the age of 22. He studied philosophy and law, spent ten years writing six books
and finally, when he realized he could not make a living as a writer, began
practicing law. Later he became deputy prosecuting attorney in Terre Haute.
He died in 1945. Three years later his widow included "Desiderata"
in "The poems of Max Ehrmann," published in 1948 by the Bruce
Humphries Publishing Company, of Boston
The Rev. Halsey Cook, rector of Old St.Paulīs, told inquirers that no
literary work of any kind could have possibly have been found in St. Paulīs
Church in Baltimore in 1692, because the church did not then exist. St. Paulīs
parish was established in 1692, but its first crude log church was not erected
until the following year.
"Desiderata" appeared in "Between Dawn and Dark," a
booklet compiled by the Rev. Frederick Ward Kates, who had been rector of Old
St. Paulīs from 1956 to 1961.
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 it the composition."
The present owner of the copyright:
Mr. Robert L. Bell, 669 Main Street, Melrose, Massachusetts 02176, Tel. (617)
Saint Paulsīs Parish is located at 309 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, Maryland
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his
employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a
more leisurely life with his wife and enjoying his extended family. He would
miss his paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by. The
contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just
one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was
easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy
workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a
When the carpenter finished his work the employer came to
inspect the house. He handed the front-door key to the carpenter.". This is
your house," he said, "my gift to you." The carpenter was
shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he
would have done it all so differently. So it is with us. We build our
lives, a day at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then
with a shock we realize we have to live in the house we have built. If we could
do it over, we'd do it much differently.
But we cannot go back. You are the carpenter. Each day you
hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall, "Life is a do-it-yourself
project," someone has said. Your attitudes and the choices you make
today, build the "house" you live in tomorrow.
Work like you don't need the money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
Dance like nobody is watching.
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