"Desiderata" (Latin: "things desired") is an early 1920s prose poem by the American writer Max Ehrmann. Although he copyrighted it in 1927, he distributed copies of it without a required copyright notice during 1933 and c. 1942, thereby forfeiting his US copyright. Largely unknown in the author's lifetime, its use in devotional and spoken word recordings in 1960 and 1971 called it to the attention of the world.
Max Ehrmann, 1948
Max Ehrmann of Terre Haute, Indiana, wrote the work in the early 1920s, starting in 1921, but he did not use any title. He registered for his US copyright in 1927 via its first phrase. In 1933 he distributed the poem in the form of a Christmas card, evidently entitling it "Desiderata" because a few days later he wrote in his Journal that a Kansas editor criticized his "Desiderata". Several years before 1942 a depressed woman gave psychiatrist Merrill Moore a copy of the poem without the name of the author, allowing him to hand out over 1,000 unattributed copies to his patients and soldiers during World War II. After Ehrmann died in 1945, his widow first published the work in 1948 in The Poems of Max Ehrmann. The Reverend Frederick Kates handed out about 200 unattributed copies to his congregation at Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore, during 1959 or 1960.
The 1948 version was in the form of one long prose paragraph, so earlier and later versions were presumably also in that form. Long after the author's death in 1945, hence not authorized by him, the work was partitioned into subparagraphs or stanzas. It was first partitioned into a few subparagraphs separated by "distinctive spacing figures" in 1970 by Pro Arts and Crescendo Publishers. Later It was split into four or more subparagraphs separated by new lines in DePauw University's Mirage for 1978, and in the July/August 1999 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. In some versions, almost all instances of "and" are replaced by ampersands, "&". Other versions change "the noise and the haste" to "the noise and haste" and change "Be cheerful." to "Be careful.", notably the 1971 spoken word recording by Les Crane.
On January 3, 1927, Ehrmann registered "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, etc." under US copyright number A 962402. In 1948, three years after Ehrmann's death, Bertha K. Ehrmann, his widow, included "Desiderata" in The Poems of Max Ehrmann, published that year by the Bruce Humphries Publishing Company of Boston. In 1954, she renewed the copyright.
In 1959 or 1960, the Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland, included "Desiderata" in a compilation of devotional materials for his congregation. The compilation included the church's foundation date, "Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore AD 1692," which readers subsequently took, and sometimes still do take, to be the date of the poem's composition.
In 1967, Robert L. Bell acquired the publishing rights from Bruce Humphries Publishing Company, where he was president, and then bought the copyright from Richard Wright, nephew and heir to the Ehrmann works.
In August 1971, the poem was published in Success Unlimited magazine, without permission from Robert L. Bell. In a 1975 lawsuit against the magazine's publisher, Combined Registry Co., the court ruled (and subsequently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld) that copyright had been abandoned and forfeited because the poem had been authorized for publication without a copyright notice in 1933 and 1942 – and that the poem was therefore in the public domain.
Uses in popular culture
There have been many uses of the poem in the popular canon:
- When US Democratic presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a guest in his home found the Desiderata near his bedside and discovered that Stevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards. This contributed further to the poem becoming widely known.
- The text was widely distributed in poster form in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Calling it "Spock Thoughts", Leonard Nimoy recited the poem on his 1968 album, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy. This version also appeared on the 1995 re-release of Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space. His rendition is not the only one to change the second-to-last sentence from "Be Cheerful" to "Be Careful".
- In concluding her January 8, 1970, interview with David Frost, actress Joan Crawford recited Desiderata.
- In late 1971 and early 1972, Les Crane's spoken-word recording of Desiderata (the lead track on his 1971 Warner Bros. album Desiderata) peaked at #8 on the Billboard chart, #4 on the Canadian RPM Magazine chart, and #6 on the UK Melody Maker's chart. It made #4 on the Australian singles chart in 1971 and #1 in New Zealand in 1972. The producers of Crane's recording assumed that the poem was too old to be in copyright, but the publicity surrounding the record led to clarification of Ehrmann's authorship and his family eventually receiving royalties.
- Scottish folk-rock and soft rock duo Gallagher and Lyle recorded their own adaptation of the poem for their eponymous debut album in 1972.
- Noted German actor and presenter Friedrich Schütter covered the piece in his native tongue later in 1971 utilizing the original Les Crane backing tracks shipped in from the U.S.
- A Spanish language version by Mexican actor Arturo Benavides topped the Mexican charts for six weeks in 1972.
- In 1972, National Lampoon did a parody on this prose entitled Deteriorata, which featured the lines: "You are a fluke of the universe; you have no right to be here".
- In response to his government's losing its majority in the Canadian federal election, 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau quoted Desiderata by reassuring the nation that "the universe is unfolding as it should." He also quoted the poem's final stanza at the end of his concession speech after losing the 1979 election to Joe Clark.
- In a 1980 episode of the British TV series The Professionals entitled "Discovered in a Graveyard", part of the poem is recited by George Cowley (Gordon Jackson).
- British group Opus III included the text in the CD inlay of their 1992 album Mind Fruit
- Israeli "Voice of Peace" radio-station owner Abie Nathan would broadcast himself reading it each evening, from a pirate radio ship "somewhere in the Mediterranean" 
- The British band In the Nursery adapted the poem to music on its 1992 album Duality.
- On August 26, 2010, a bronze statue of Ehrmann sitting on a park bench was unveiled in Terre Haute, Indiana, his hometown, with the sculpture done by Bill Wolfe. On a nearby walkway, some lines of the poem are also available to be read by passers-by.
- Actor Morgan Freeman interviewed on Oprah Winfrey's Master Class television special (2012), expressed how deeply the poem Desiderata shaped his life.
- Reggae band SOJA has a Grammy nominated album titled Amid the Noise and Haste in reference to this poem.
- Lazyboy the band has a song 'Desiderata' which quotes this poem on their album LazyBoy TV.
- In 2013 German country music singer Carl Emroy re-created the Les Crane version both in his native German, as well as in English, in a set of music videos filmed in St. Joseph, Michigan, at a lakeside resort.
- In 2016, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Philippine drama anthology series Maalaala Mo Kaya, a spoken-word music recording of the poem (recorded in both English and Filipino) was performed by TBUP Choir and OPM singers Lea Salonga, Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Lani Misalucha, Ogie Alcasid, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Sharon Cuneta, with a spoken narration of the poem by the program's host Charo Santos-Concio, and included on the compilation album Life Songs with Charo Santos.
- The Netflix animated sitcom F is for family, Season 3 EP 8 features a spoken word section of Desiderata.
- Bell v. Combined Registry Co., 397 F. Supp. 1241, No. 72 C 1819 (Dist. Court, ND Illinois 1975) ("...the court finds that the author and copyright proprietor, Max Ehrmann, both abandoned and forfeited the copyright in Desiderata.").
- "Les Crane – Desiderata". discogs.com. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
Warner Bros. Records BS 2570
- Ehrmann, Max (1948). Ehrmann, Bertha (ed.). "The Poems of Max Ehrmann". Bruce Humphries, Inc. p. 165. Original Text www.desiderata.com
- Ehrmann, Max (1952), The Journal of Max Ehrmann, p. 309,
1934, January 4.—An editor in Kansas criticizes my Desiderata ...
- Contrary to Bell v. Combined Registry Company, Desiderata is not in Between Dawn and Dusk by Rev. Kates for 1957 through its eighth printing.
- Bell v. Pro Arts, 1973, ¶16
- "Desiderata", Mirage, DePauw University, 93, p. 43, 1978
- "Desiderata", Saturday Evening Post, p. 48, 1999
- [Max Ehrmann] (1972), Desiderata, New York: Crown Publishers, ISBN 0-517-53422-3
- Douglas, Jonathan; Rasted, Soren, Desiderata lyrics
- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "Catalog of Copyright Entries (1927) New Series Vol 24 Part 1, citation number 1041" by Library of Congress Copyright Office.
- "File:Desiderata 1927 Copyright record.jpg". wikimedia.org. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Cavinder, Fred D. (August 1973). "Desiderata". TWA Ambassador. pp. 14–15. via Platt, Suzy, ed. (1993). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. Library of Congress. Barnes & Noble. p. 212. ISBN 9780880297684. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document ", Copyright Renewal Database Long Record R127188" by Stanford University Copyright Renewal Database. Retrieved on 18 August 2013.
- "Desiderata History". fleurdelis.com. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- "Desiderata History". desiderata.com. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Bell v. Combined Registry Co., 536 F. 2d 164, No. 75-1753 (Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 1976) ("The judgment appealed from is AFFIRMED.").
- "Bell v. Combined Registry Co., 536 F.2d 164 (7th Cir., 1976)". United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. May 14, 1976.
- Katz, Barbara J. (November 27, 1977). "Popular Prose-Poem is No Work of the Ages". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
- ""The David Frost Show" Episode #2.100 (TV Episode 1970)". IMDb. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Flavour of New Zealand, 6 March 1972
- "Hits of the world". Billboard. 25 March 1972. p. 54.
- Valpy, Michael (June 25, 2004). "'The universe is unfolding as it should'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
- "'The Professionals' TV Series - Episode 'Discovered in a Graveyard'". Mark-1.co.uk. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
- "Androgyny's Adventures Of The Shaved Sasquatch". Adventuresoftheshavedsasquatch.blogspot.com. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
- "Abie Nathan reading "Desiderata" - "The voice of peace" 100FM". YouTube. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
- "Duality". Discogs.com.
- Boyce, Brian (August 27, 2010). "Max takes his seat at the Crossroads of America". Tribune-Star. Terre Haute, Indiana. Retrieved 2012-12-31.
- "Morgan's Poem on Master Class - Zavvi Rodaine". zavvirodaine.com. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus (2006-09-04). "Lazyboy TV - Lazy-B, Lazyboy | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
- "Desiderata - Ms. Charo Santos featuring OPM Icons". ABS-CBN Starmusic. ABS-CBN Corporation. July 23, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
- "F is For Family (2015) s03e08 Episode Script | SS". Springfield! Springfield!. Retrieved 2019-04-26.
- Works related to Desiderata at Wikisource