ABOUT THE POET
Max Ehrmann (September
26, 1872- September 9, 1945) was a recognized poet, attorney born in Terre
Haute, Indiana to German parents. In 1894, he graduated from De Pauw
University, Greencastle. Later, he went on to study philosophy at Harvard
After practising as a
lawyer for several years, he attempted his family business. Within a span of 10
years, he devoted all his time in literary works.
He in his lifetime has
contributed great thoughts to our literary lexicons, giving birth to a new
gamut of words and wisdom of his own provided with worthy observations.
His works majorly
concerned with social issues, philosophical search for social truth, peace,
spiritualism and various other trails of life. Poems such as Complacent Women,
1918, and Washington, D.C, 1924 as such as that they are relevant even today.
Two of his most prominent poems are– Desiderata (1927) and A Prayer (1906). Other
works comprise – A Farrago (1898), Scarlet Women etc.
Max Ehrmann’s legacy
is lauded with several accolades ranging from Doctor of Letters from D P
University in 1937 to his life-sized bronze statue by sculptor Bill Wolfe in
He died at the age of
73 and is buried in Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute.
ABOUT THE POEM
Desiderata ( Latin:
Desired things) is a didactic prose poem written in 1927. It offers simple
positive credo of life encapsulating wisdom, positivity and some timeless
truths. The poem by its name focusses on the things we should desire or aim at.
The poem’s grace lies
in its power to help one realize and rise above uncomfortable facts about human
presence. The nuanced approach of the poem towards life is commendable. It
encourages one to celebrate goodness. Note of positivity in the poem gives rise
to its rhythmic sequence. Brushing through the themes of love, compassion, dignity,
honestly towards life, it retains the power of optimism with wise ratings and
Through the poem,
Ehrmann has advised us to find hope in this world full of treachery, chaos,
fraud, hypocrisy and loneliness and inspire people to change their perception. It
opens with the most relevant message in our time of troubles :
“ Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what
peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible,
be on good terms with
The poem’s wisdom can
be correlated to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘ If–’. Ehrmann said about
Desiderata “ because it counsels those virtues I felt myself most in need of”.
STRUCTURE OF THE POEM
Go placidly amid
the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in
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
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
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and
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
But do not distress yourself with dark
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the
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
Therefore be at peace
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy
poem is split up into eight unequal stanzas of varying length. The undue embellishment in tone and rhythm is
absent. It does not fulfil a definite metrical pattern and it moreover reads
like a sentence with occasional breaks to structure it as a poem. It has verbs
and adverbs with adds on the instructional element of the poem. The poem is
full of suggestions to deal and avoid distressing situations and values the
views of others, be it ‘ dull’ or ‘ignorant’.
Is it a poem in true
sense? : Historically it is regarded as a didactic poem
but a modern critic is sure to challenge the categorization of Desiderata.
It seems to be a more compendium of maxims clubbed together in a poetic form.
No significant figure if speech. Through its inspirational nature seek the
qualities of a poem. Moreover, the adverbs used at the beginning placidly,
quickly and clearly provides a kind of rhyme and repetition
heightening the calmness of it.
DEVICES IN THE POEM
There are several
figures of speech that we come across in the poem. These includes:
1. Simile– The figure of
speech in which a likeness between two different things is stated explicitly.
Examples in the poem include:
‘ it is perennial as the grass’.
be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.”
2. Alliteration– The figure if
speech which includes the close repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the
beginning of the words.
‘ If you compare yourself with
‘ Especially do not feign affecting’.
‘ Nurture strength of the spirit to
shield you in sudden misfortune.’
‘But do not distress yourself with
‘Many fears are born of fatigue
3. Metonymy– Substitution of the
name of one of the attributes of a thing for the name of the thing itself.
Examples of metonymy in the poem:
Take kindly the counsel of the years.
THEME OF THE POEM
towards one’s life– Positivity/ Optimism
is the pivotal theme of the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. The poet
inspires us to be calm and hopeful in any dire situations. In a simple yet
powerful manner, it lays out the pillars for living a happy life and keeping
peace in oneself. Abraham Lincoln has rightly said, “ most people are about as
happy as they make up their minds to be”.
It advises us to
remain focused on ourselves and not just sit in judgement over others and the
world around us. Ehrmann has given practical suggestions for inner peace by way
of maintaining the friendship, being truthful and honest and even respect and
listen to the ‘dull’ and ‘ignorant’. He suggested:
“ If you compare
yourself with others,
you may become vain
for always there be greater
or lesser persons than yourself.
achievements as well as your plans.”
However, the poet is
not unaware of the malicious world. There are those who are cynical about love and
others who are disenchanted with everything under the sun along with ‘ loud and
aggressive’ persons. Whatever be the chaos yet his poem brings out the themes
of love, compassion, hope, optimism that will help us to cross this drowning
boat of mankind.
“ And whatever your
labors and aspirations,
in the noisy
confusion of life, keep peace in your soul”.