…you have a right to be here

The urban legend isn’t true, and that’s a shame. It was not anonymously written in 1692 and discovered in a Baltimore churchyard centuries later.  Although you can see how the mistake could be made.

Latin for “desired things,” “Desiderata” (plural of “desideratum” for you pedants) is actually a prose poem by Max Ehrmann, an attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana. Written in 1927, when Ehrmann was 54, “Desiderata” only achieved renown years after his passing, when it was discovered on Adlai Stevenson’s deathbed in 1965.

Apparently Stevenson had planned to use the poem in his Christmas cards and the text was part of a compilation of devotional materials that the rector of Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore had assembled for his congregation.  The cover included the church’s foundation date: Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692, causing confusion about the poem’s origins, which is where the urban legend arose.

“Star Trek” fans may recall the Leonard Nimoy recording, which was entitled “Spock Thoughts” and was included on his 1967 album, “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” (No?  Don’t remember that one?)  In his rendition the second to last sentence was changed from “Be Cheerful” to “Be Careful” as was done in today’s selection.

In 1971, radio announcer and television talk show host, Les Crane (famous to some for being married to Tina Louise of “Gilligan’s Island” fame) made a 45rpm recording of the poem that reached Number 8 on the Billboard Chart in 1972 (hitting Number 4 on the Canadian Charts and Number 6 on the UK Charts) and Crane received a Grammy Award.

While it was assumed that “Desiderata” was very old and therefore in the public domain, the copyright actually belonged to the Ehrmann estate and the publicity around the record led to clarification and a happy conclusion for Max Ehrmann’s family who eventually received appropriate royalties.

Although this rendition, which became somewhat of a counterculture anthem, is slightly dated with its groovy accoutrements, it was hugely inspirational during a rather gloomy time for the country.  As for the text itself, timeless is a fine description, and one could well imagine stumbling across it in some old churchyard, etched across a weather beaten tablet dated A.D. 1692…



 (You are a child of the universe

No less than the trees and the stars

You have a right…)

  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 or bitter

For always there will be greater and lesser persons than 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)

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 careful (cheerful)

Strive to be happy

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