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The Desiderata: The Timeless Wisdom of Max Ehrmann’s Masterpiece

The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
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The Desiderata has been one of Spirit Being Life’s favorite poems. It also tops the list as one of my personal favorites. The poem gives us simple and positive messages on how to live a life of happiness and success. It provides sound advice about taking the highest path when traveling through the experience of life. It expresses challenges we may face and presents solutions to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.

A Brief Overview: The History of The Desiderata

The Desiderata is one of the most widely recalled and popular poems of the 20th century.4 It has been printed on Christmas cards, posters, booklets, and shower curtains, and has been recorded and sung about by various artists.

The Desiderata is a prose poem penned by Max Ehrmann in 1927. He was an Indiana-born poet and lawyer. Desiderata is Latin and means ‘things that are yearned for’ Ehrmann stated that he wrote it for himself, “because it counsels those virtues I felt most in need of.” 3

It was initially untitled but then named but then officially named by his widow when she published ‘The Poems of Max Ehrmann’ in 1945.

Max Ehrmann was from Terre Haute, Indiana. He began writing the poem in 1921. At first, he did not assign it a name. The poem was registered for copyright in 1927 using the poem’s first phrase in place as its title.

The poem became most popular in the 60s and early 70s and was distributed in poster form.

The poem has a rich history. It is full of myths, legal proceedings, and questions. There was a false assumption as to where the poem originated from because Reverend Frederick Kates’s Old Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore also shared about 200 unattributed copies with his congregation around 1959 or 1960. The copies were included in a booklet he gave his parishes to read that stated the church’s foundation date of 1692. Because of this people believed the poem originated during that time. 1

There has been confusion surrounding copyright and usage and whether or not the poem was in the public domain.

There had been a copyright court battle in 1976 between a magazine publisher and the owner of the poem Robert L Bell. The court favoured the publisher Combined Registry Company. 2

In 1971, Les Crane used a spoken word recording of the poem in his song and album titled ‘Desiderata’ which peaked at number 4 in Australia. 1 He saw the poem on a poster and incorrectly believed it to be in the public domain. He then had to share his royalties with the copyright owners of the poem.

Today a bronze statue, created by artist Bill Wolfe in 2010 sits on a park bench where he often wrote near the corner of 7th and Wabash, the “Crossroads of America”. He drew inspiration from the sights, sounds, and people of Terre Haute. The statue depicts him with a writing pad; scrawled in his cursive is the last line of Ehrmann’s poem “Terre Haute”: “Here is the world in miniature.” His legs are crossed, his left arm stretched out and leaning on the top of the bench. A plaque of the Desiderata is mounted nearby, and excerpts are embedded in the walkway. 5,4 

Fun and Interesting Facts

  • Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry kept a copy of Desiderata in his office. 2
  • Johnny Depp’s character in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ has the entire poem tattooed on his back. 5,4 
  • A 2012 Opera Winfrey interview with Morgan Freeman explains how deeply the poem has shaped his life. 1
  • A Spanish language version was sung by Mexican actor in 1972 by Arturo Benavides where it topped the Mexican charts for six weeks in 1972. 1

The Desiderata is a timeless and unique work of verse, continuing its journey beyond the 20th century into today. In my view, it upholds its status as a globally cherished and motivating poem, offering solace and inspiration to many.

  1. Desiderata – Wikipedia
  2. Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, The Poem and Meaning (
  3. Desiderata – Desiderata Poem – Desiderata Prints
  4. In Search of “Desiderata” by Daniel Nester | Poetry Foundation
  5. Max Ehrmann at the Crossroads (
  6. In Search of “Desiderata” by Daniel Nester | Poetry Foundation

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