A yellowed poster adorned, only by the words of Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” penned in brown calligraphy, has hung on my various office walls for nearly forty years. I first became acquainted with this poem when I came across the recording by Les Crane, and I still thrill to the sound of that sweeping line, “You are a child of the universe…”
This poem and song stirred my soul when I first heard it, and it has remained an inspiration through the years. I stop to read it now and then, and consider how closely I’m applying its wisdom. There is always room for improvement. It has calmed my fevered spirit on more than one occasion, and kept me looking for the good in situations when life seemed dark and restored my sense of purpose.
Just now, as the world seems to be whirling in chaos with earthquakes, threatened nuclear disasters, changes of regimes, and potential cosmic events, this poem seems more relevant than ever. I’m using the poem as a journal prompt for a few days, and offer it to you for the comfort, hope and inspiration it may bring. It’s also full of tips for writing if you read between the lines.
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 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.
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.
Strive to be happy.
— Max Ehrmann
One line pertaining to writing life story and memoir is “… speak your truth quietly and clearly …” Without Truth, memoir is fiction.
The passage about comparing yourself with others — this is a guaranteed invitation to severe writer’s block and other afflictions of the writer’s soul. Breaking free of these comparisons is key to achieving health benefits from writing.
Keep interested in your own career; enjoy your achievements — this advice can apply to the process of writing as well as the content.
As you peruse the poem, you’ll surely find more great advice.
Write now: Write an essay or story about a time when life seemed dark and you found inspiration in a poem (perhaps the Desiderata), a scripture, or other writing. Tell about any writings you turn to for comfort, wisdom and strength. Share this story with your family or friends if it seems appropriate.