June 30, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

One Hoosier’s words of wisdom for all faiths

On a dusty shelf recently, I found a paper “jacket” meant to protect a 45 rpm record, which was missing.

Printed on the jacket are inspirational words titled “Desiderata,” wrongly credited as being found in 1692 in Old Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Md. Recent research proves it was written by Terre Haute, Ind., poet and lawyer Max Ehrmann (1872-1945).

The only connection between “Desiderata” and the Baltimore Episcopal church is that in 1959, the church’s rector, the Rev. Frederick Kates, used the poem in devotional materials. Somehow the church’s founding date was transferred to the poem.

“Desiderata”—Latin for “Things to be Desired”—is shared here in prose poem style for Criterion readers, especially those unfamiliar with it:

“Go placidly amid the noise and the 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 to the dull and 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.

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

Max Ehrmann copyrighted this in 1927. His widow, Bertha K. Ehrmann, renewed the copyright in 1954. She died in 1962.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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