Desiderata , an Afterthought


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

Desiderata is a 1927 prose poem written by American writer and poet Max Ehrmann. It comes from a Latin word which means “something that is desired or essential”. It is often suffixed as ‘A Poem for a Way of life’. Desiderata was circulated in the form of posters in the 1960s and 70s and has been widely used in popular culture time and again. Spoken word renditions of the poem by Leonard Nimoy and Les Crane have also been extremely popular in the past and continue to hold relevance even today. What makes the poem a riveting read is its lucidity, precision and simplicity of intent which leaves a deep imprint on the soul.

Human beings often turn to poetry and art in search of succour and comfort, and Desiderata is a poem that seeks to provide people with an understanding of one’s self and the universe in order to achieve inner peace and contentment. Ehrmann employs poetic tools of imagery and emotion in an almost didactic manner to provide timeless wisdom on how one should deal with other people, one’s career and the society during the course of one’s life.

Ehrmann tells us to embrace tranquillity in life by not succumbing to the pressures of a fast-moving cacophonic world. One must take a few moments off from the rat race to appreciate the serenity of existence amid because there is ‘peace in silence’. He urges us to speak our truths ‘quietly and clearly’, but at the same time, we should be willing to listen to those around us because even the dull and ignorant have their story. He warns us against comparing ourselves with other people for it only makes a human ‘vain and bitter’. At every point in life, there will be people who are better off and worse off than us. Thus, it is important to savour one’s own victories while having a sustained interest in one’s career because that is ‘a real possession in the changing fortunes of time’.

Ehrmann alerts us against trickery and double-ness that is inherent in the world and advises us to exercise caution in our work and dealings with other people. At times, we have to shield ourselves against the dualities of the world. He also asserts that we should strive to be genuine and true to our own self in a world that is rapidly changing and evolving. As Ralph Waldo Emerson has rightly said–“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Resilience is one of our greatest strengths as human beings. Hardships make us stronger because we are all capable of more than we think we are. Ehrmann too focuses on the pre-eminence of nurturing the ‘strength of spirit’ in order to build fortitude of character and take charge of one’s own lives in the face of unforeseen adversities. At the same time, amid all our existential anxieties and quest for a greater purpose in life, Ehrmann urges us to be gentle with ourselves–‘you are a child of the universe/no less than the trees and the stars/you have a right to be here’.

Towards the end, Ehrmann subsumes a spiritual voice to say that we should be at peace with ourselves and God, no matter what we conceive him to be, for it ‘may not be clear to us/ but the universe is unfolding as it should’. In a way, he is trying to tell us that some things are beyond human control because at the end of the day we are just infinitesimal beings in this vast universe. We cannot presume to know or fathom the logic or pattern that the universe is working on. Thus, Ehrmann ends on a note of optimism by saying that we must all celebrate our rare and wonderful existence while we are here. Life is beautiful only when one is at peace with oneself.

– Contributed by Ankita

Picture: Desiderata inspirational poster (Source –

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