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"Desiderata" (Latin: "things desired") is a 1927 prose poem by the American writer Max Ehrmann. The text was widely distributed in poster form in the 1960s and 1970s.


Max Ehrmann of Terre Haute, Indiana started writing the work in 1921,[citation needed] but he did not assign it a title. He registered for his U.S. copyright in 1927 using the poem's first phrase as its title. The April 5, 1933 issue of Michigan Tradesman magazine published the full, original text on its cover, crediting Ehrmann as its author. In 1933, he distributed the poem in the form of a Christmas card,[1] now officially titled "Desiderata."[2]

Psychiatrist Merrill Moore distributed more than 1,000 unattributed copies to his patients and soldiers during World War II.[1] After Ehrmann died in 1945, his widow published the work in 1948 in The Poems of Max Ehrmann. The 1948 version was in the form of one long prose paragraph, so earlier and later versions were presumably also in that form.[1][3]

The reverend Frederick Kates distributed about 200 unattributed copies as devotional materials for his congregation at Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore during 1959 or 1960.[1][3] The papers mentioned the church's foundation date of 1692, which has caused many to falsely assume that the date is that of the poem's origination.[4][5]

The text was widely distributed in poster form in the 1960s and 1970s, often with the incorrect date of 1692.[6] It was first partitioned into a few subparagraphs separated by "distinctive spacing figures" in 1970 by Pro Arts and Crescendo Publishers.[7] Later, it was divided into four or more subparagraphs separated by new lines in DePauw University's Mirage for 1978[8] and in the July/August 1999 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.[9] In some versions, almost all instances of "and" are replaced by ampersands.[10] Other versions change "the noise and the haste" to "the noise and haste" and change "be cheerful" to "be careful," notably in the 1971 spoken-word recording by Les Crane.[11]

Copyright status[edit]

1927 copyright registration

Ehrmann's widow renewed the copyright in 1954.[12] In 1967, Robert L. Bell acquired the publishing rights from Bruce Humphries Publishing Company, and then bought the copyright from Richard Wright, nephew and heir to the Ehrmann work.[13]

In August 1971, the poem was published in Success Unlimited magazine without permission from Bell. In a 1975 lawsuit against the magazine's publisher Combined Registry Co., the court ruled that copyright had been forfeited because the poem had been authorized for publication without a copyright notice in 1933 and 1942, meaning that the poem was therefore in the public domain. The ruling was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals but was denied consideration by the Supreme Court.[1][14][15] However, Bell refused to recognize the ruling. As the decision was only valid in the appeals court's jurisdiction of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, Bell continued to litigate in other jurisdictions, seeking removal of the poem from offending publications or payment of royalties.[16][17]

The poem is now officially in the public domain throughout the U.S., as written works registered before 1928 entered the public domain in 2023.[18]

Significant usages of the poem[edit]

  • A Spanish-language version by Mexican actor Arturo Benavides topped the Mexican charts for six weeks in 1972.[19]
  • In 1971, Les Crane used a spoken-word recording of the poem as the lead track of his album Desiderata.[20] His producers had assumed that the poem was too old to be copyrighted, but the publicity surrounding the record led to clarification of Ehrmann's authorship and the eventual payment of royalties. Crane's version peaked at #4 in Australia in December 1971.[21]
  • In 2010, Ehrmann's hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana unveiled a bronze statue by Bill Wolfe of Ehrmann sitting on a park bench.[22]
  • Following his government's loss of majority in the 1972 Canadian federal election, prime minister Pierre Trudeau reassured the nation by quoting Desiderata: "Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."[23]
  • In a 1982 episode of The Professionals titled "Discovered in a Graveyard", a framed copy is found in Ray Doyle's apartment and is read aloud by George Cowley.[24]
  • In a 2012 interview on Oprah Winfrey's Master Class television special, actor Morgan Freeman explained how deeply the poem had shaped his life.[25]
  • When former Illinois governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a copy of the poem was found near his bedside, as he had planned to use it in his Christmas cards. This discovery contributed further to the poem's popularity.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e 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.").
  2. ^ Ehrmann, Max (1952), The Journal of Max Ehrmann, p. 309, 1934, January 4.—An editor in Kansas criticizes my Desiderata ...
  3. ^ a b Contrary to Bell v. Combined Registry Company, Desiderata is not in Between Dawn and Dusk by Rev. Kates for 1957 through its eighth printing.
  4. ^ a b 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 November 10, 2011.
  5. ^ "Desiderata History". Retrieved July 1, 2015.
  6. ^ Katz, Barbara J. (November 27, 1977). "Popular Prose-Poem is No Work of the Ages". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  7. ^ Bell v. Pro Arts, 1973, ¶16
  8. ^ "Desiderata", Mirage, vol. 93, DePauw University, p. 43, 1978
  9. ^ "Desiderata", Saturday Evening Post, p. 48, 1999
  10. ^ [Max Ehrmann] (1972), Desiderata, New York: Crown Publishers, ISBN 0-517-53422-3
  11. ^ Douglas, Jonathan; Rasted, Soren, Desiderata lyrics
  12. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from Stanford University Copyright Renewal Database. Copyright Renewal Database Long Record R127188. United States Government. Retrieved August 18, 2013.
  13. ^ "Desiderata History". Retrieved July 1, 2015.
  14. ^ Bell v. Combined Registry Co., 536 F. 2d 164, No. 75-1753 (Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 1976) ("The judgment appealed from is AFFIRMED.").
  15. ^ "Bell v. Combined Registry Co., 536 F.2d 164 (7th Cir., 1976)". United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. May 14, 1976.
  16. ^ Desiderata Licensing Information, Terre Haute IN Community Access Network, 1999, Permission by Robert L. Bell [in 1999]
  17. ^ "Robert L. Bell '42 [obituary]", Bowdoin Magazine,, January 15, 2009, Robert L. Bell ... died January 15, 2009, ...
  18. ^ "Public Domain Day 2023". Duke University School of Law. Archived from the original on January 4, 2023. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  19. ^ "Hits of the world". Billboard. March 25, 1972. p. 54.
  20. ^ "Les Crane – Desiderata". Discogs. 1971. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  21. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 76. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  22. ^ Boyce, Brian (August 27, 2010). "Max takes his seat at the Crossroads of America". Tribune-Star. Terre Haute, Indiana. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  23. ^ Valpy, Michael (June 25, 2004). "The universe is unfolding as it should". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  24. ^ "The Professionals TV Series – Discovered In A Graveyard". Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  25. ^ "Morgan's Poem on Master Class – Zavvi Rodaine". Archived from the original on July 2, 2015. Retrieved July 1, 2015.

External links[edit]