October 26, 2014

Wiki "Friday": "Desiderata"

Small note: I am starting a regular job in two weeks. I will have better awareness of what day it is and Wiki Fridays may well come on Fridays.

Today, Sunday, we discuss a particular set of aphorisms.

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 soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

This prose poem was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927.

I first saw it in New Zealand, on the wall of my cousin Blair's house. I assumed it was much older.

There has been widespread confusion about the origin date, actually, all because a reverend in Maryland included the poem in a package of devotional materials that mentioned the church's foundation date of 1692.

Wikipedia says that Pierre Trudeau, when the Liberal Party lost its majority in the 1972 federal election, quoted the poem by reassuring the nation that, "the universe is unfolding as it should."


What about Max Ehrmann, you ask. The internet proffers little on him. He was a lawyer and later worked in his family's meatpacking business and in the manufacture of overalls.

At 40 he devoted himself to writing, and apparently worked at that each day, which I like a lot.

Other poems can be found, mostly spiritual. I find some dense, but some delightful, like this one, about enduring rainy days, endeavouring to be gentle, and, bizarrely, shooting at the archery range.

"Desiderata" came back into my life via Hisao, a Japanese Canadian man who lives in my neighbourhood and grows his own strawberries, grapes, and daikon. He spends very little money. Until last week, he collected sweet chestnuts from the back lane and roasted them for breakfast. His kitchen wall is covered with aphorisms for inspiring kindness in himself and others, including the complete "Desiderata."

The title in Latin means desired things, a phrase that inevitably reminds me of Jordan Karnes, my friend who is a poet.

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