All about Desiderata

Last night, I revisited "Desiderata". I remember having memorized this poem when I was in high school. We were required to recite it from memory. Since then, the poem has really stayed with me. In the course of my professional life, I have come across it posted on the wall of offices, or standing by a corner framed. It only goes to show that like me, it has inspired so many other individuals.

May I invite you then to revisit the poem stanza by stanza with me? Maybe we can get inspired again by this classic.

1st Stanza: "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."

What does the line invoke? It invokes a chaotic, stressful world that we have to contend with every single day while we are alive. Then we are reminded that to obtain peace in the midst of the chaos and stress, we can try solitude.

2nd stanza: "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."

Simply understood, it talks about tact and diplomacy; compassion and empathy. It also warns us to choose our company wisely.

3rd stanza: "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."

I love this stanza. It is very straightforward, direct and totally endearing. Comparison will really bring us nowhere. It can lead to jealousy and bitterness especially in people who keep their insecurities and inadequacies hidden very well. Some people will always be greater than us. It's a fact of life. We had better accept that right here and now.

It says enjoy your achievements but keep your feet planted on the ground. It is true: humility is a real possession both in good times and bad. You become rich, you stay humble; you go through some tough time; you stay humble. It's a winner.

4th stanza: "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."

The heart of this stanza is simply: Be yourself. Do not pretend. Do not play a role. Be real. But at the same time, be discerning and intuitive in your professional and personal dealings.

It also reminds us that the world is full of big and little heroes. We can derive inspiration from them.

5th stanza: "Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass."

Now this stanza is totally a lesson for all of us to learn. For after all, don't we all turn cynical when in a love relationship we get hurt? We get jaded; callous; and cynical. We say romance is overrated and stuff like that.

Desiderata tells us that love is as perennial as the grass. What a beautiful analogy.

6th stanza: "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."

Wisdom. This stanza talks about wisdom that we obtain as we sail on in our life journeys. When we have transitioned from youth to adulthood, we would also have developed mental and emotional toughness and strength of character.

It counsels us not to focus on the negative things in life.

7th stanza: "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."

This is the stanza that I love the most. "Be gentle with yourself." A very gentle reminder that we should always take care of ourselves; that we do not neglect ourselves and take "us" for granted; not to be too harsh on ourselves. We ought to be the very first people to love ourselves so we are able to love others.

And since God created you, you have the right to be here. And because you are here, you are witness to the many wondrous things that God has caused the universe to unfold for everyone.

8th stanza: "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."

The stanza best explains it. It is crystal clear. Whatever we go through in life, we know whom to anchor. Do you know whom to anchor?

9th stanza: "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

Yes, with life's unfairness and broken dreams - don't we all experience that? it is still a beautiful world. We may not see the beauty at times, but it truly is. So we must keep the cheerful disposition and strive to be happy.

Thank you Max Ehrmann for composing Desiderata. The author is 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.

About the Author
Belinda Sales Canlas Belinda Sales-Canlas writes for The Mindanao Bulletin as columnist of Bridges. At present, she works at power industry in the Visayas as media communication consultant. You can also visit her writings at and


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