"Desiderata"

(Desiderata = "the sense of something missing, the thing desired" - Oxford Concise Dictionary)

"The Desiderata of Happiness"
By Max Ehlrmann (1948 and 1967)

I have always known the Desiderata to have been written in 1692 by an unknown author and found in Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore. When Charles Burrell selected this as one of his favorite renowned poems I automatically wrote "Author Unknown". In attempting to retrieve "Desiderata" online, I was shocked to discover that it was NOT found in Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland and it is NOT dated 1692!!! I am quite familiar with the poem and had a copy of it tacked to a wall in my dorm at Marquette University in the early '70s. I thought it would be a snap to just snatch it from the Net and post it here. But I was mistaken. Who knew?!

That much beloved and very familiar poem was written (and copyrighted!) in 1927 by one Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) of Terre Haute, Indiana. His widow, Bertha K.Ehrmann renewed that copyright in 1954 and it is still a valid copyright.

Books containing "Desiderata" are published by Crown Publishers and are available through your local bookstore. Permission for any and all uses of "Desiderata" must be obtained by contacting Robert L. Bell, 427 South Shore Drive, Sarasota, Florida, 34234 (USA). Due to the sensitivity of posting "Desiderata", the actual poem is not posted here. It would require permission for its posting and there was not enough time at the time of Mr. Burrell's interview to do that.

Barbara J. Katz of the "Washington Post" tracked down conflicting stories of "Desiderata"s origin ("Washington Post, "Metro" [local] news section, Sun 27 Nov 1977). The following information is extracted from her article. I accept any responsibility for any errors:

* Max Ehrmann, born in Terre Haute IN in 1872, made his living practicing law and business. His real love, however, was writing, especially philosophical poems and plays.

* "Desiderata," like his other works, did not attract much notice during his lifetime. Three years after his death in 1945, his widow tried to publicize "Desiderata," including it in a book "The Poems of Max Ehrmann."

* In the late 1950s, Rev. Frederick Ward Rates, rector of Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore MD, was in the habit of mimeographing inspirational essays and poems, and putting them in the pews of his church. One year, Rev. Kates saw "Desiderata," probably in a magazine, and mimeographed it under the usual letterhead, "Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore, A.D. 1692," the year of the church's founding. As copies passed from hand to hand, and were even reprinted, the significance of the "Old St. Paul's Church" letterhead became confused.

* By the 1960s, "Desiderata" had found its way to San Francisco "flower children," who embraced it as a supposedly centuries-old affirmation of love and peace. Low-budget printers eagerly ran off posters of what looked like a public-domain best seller. In 1965, after Adlai Stevenson's death, it became known he had intended to use it on his Christmas cards.

* Since then, it has spread around the world, translated into numerous languages.

March 2000, "S.T." Interview sections you may visit (click)
Other poetry by "S.T."