Desiderata—Now You Know the Rest of the Story

No matter how familiar you are with this lovely bit of prose, it’s worth reading again. I hope you enjoy its timeless wisdom.

By the way, Desiderata, which is Latin for “things to be desired,” was not discovered, as legend has it, in Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore in 1692. Read the real history of Desiderata immediately after the poem.


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 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.
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.


The author is Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived from 1872 to 1945. It has been reported that Desiderata was inspired by an urge that Ehrmann wrote about in his diary:

“I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift — a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.”

Around 1959, the Rev. Frederick Kates, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. (Some years earlier he had come across a copy of Desiderata.) At the top of the handout was the notation, “Old St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.C. 1692.” The church was founded in 1692.

As the material was handed from one friend to another, the authorship became clouded. Copies with the “Old St. Paul’s Church” notation were printed and distributed liberally in the years that followed. It is perhaps understandable that a later publisher would interpret this notation as meaning that the poem itself was found in Old St. Paul’s Church, dated 1692. This notation no doubt added to the charm and historic appeal of the poem, despite the fact that the actual language in the poem suggests a more modern origin. The poem was popular prose for the “make peace, not war” movement of the 1960s.

When Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a guest in his home found a copy of Desiderata near his bedside and discovered that Stevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards. The publicity that followed gave widespread fame to the poem as well as the mistaken relationship to St. Paul’s Church.


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22 Responses to “Desiderata—Now You Know the Rest of the Story”

  1. Alyssa Says:

    I hadn’t heard of the Desiderata before. Thanks for enlightening me!

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Alyssa!

  3. Judy Smolk Says:

    Phil, do you have the translation of the Latin for the ocean scene on your home page? I studied Latin many, many years ago, and am lost in translation!

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Sorry, Judy, I am as lost as you are.

  5. marecon estomo Says:

    what a very inspiring poem, thanks for sharing this to us.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    My pleasure, Marecon.

  7. mike Says:

    there is a spoken to music version of this was done by les crane in the 70’s

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    DId not know that. Thanks, Mike.

  9. Wendy Says:

    Phil, what a grand idea for a book! I’m sure you enjoyed making it and thank you from all who enjoy reading it! To Judy: translation of ocean scene! Much Love Namaste’ : ]

    you are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars have a right to exist, and is is clear to you or not, doubt the universe is unfolding as it should

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, writing “Sixty Seconds” was indeed a labor of love. Thanks, Wendy!

  11. Yeheskel Messenberg Says:

    Abie Nathan was an Israeli philanthropist and a peace activist during the 70’s and 90’s in Israel. Among his many activities and towards the end of his career, he sold all his private assets and bought an old ship which he turned into an off-shore modern radio station that transmitted and promoted peace and love to the whole MIddle East region.
    He called his ship: Sfinat Ha’Shalom (The Peace Ship) and its radio station: ‘The Voice of Peace’.
    Each evening, towards sunset, Abie Nathan put a recording of ‘Desiderata,’ read by Abie’s own deep and tranquil voice and transmitted it to the people across the Mediterranean. Every night for many many years.
    In Israel, ‘Desiderata’ became a wonderful soothing poem ending each day with a message of love and peace.

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That is awesome, Yeheskel. I didn’t know about any of that. Thanks for sharing it. If only more people in the Middle East were so committed to peace.

  13. Double D Says:

    Thanks,The Desiderata will be quite helpful in my 12 step program.

  14. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad to hear that, Double D.

  15. rowena abellera Says:

    i could memorize this poem when i was in high school…now what is left in my remembrance is the phrase, “do not compare yourself with others for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself”… it has inspired me a lot. Thank you so much. I now have the whole copy again.

  16. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Rowena. I’m glad you have taken inspiration from it!

  17. veronica castañeda Says:

    I’ve known this poem since highsch, we have to memorize it in our ethics subject. up to now , i always recommend this to those whom i know should be given inspiration, bec. it really inspired me in my journey to life… thanks to my teacher who force us to know this piece and thanks to the author…

  18. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m glad you found such meaning in it Veronica!

  19. SARRIE Says:

    i have been a great fun of the poem “DESIDERATA” and i have mastered it and i know it off head. i love the lyrics too. it has been a source of inspiration to me. long live the DESIDERATA

  20. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Good for you, Sarrie! Glad you found so much meaning in it.

  21. David Alpern Says:

    Loved reading Yeheskel’s comments about the Voice of Peace. Veterans of that station have recreated it online at:

  22. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you for the heads up, David!

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