"Desiderata" (Latin: "desired things") is a 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann. Largely unknown in the author's lifetime, the text became widely known after its use in devotional and spoken-word recordings in 1971 and 1972.
American writer Max Ehrmann (1872–1945) wrote the prose poem "Desiderata" in 1927. In 1956, 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 A.D. 1692". Consequently, the date of the text's authorship was (and still is) widely mistaken as 1692, the year of the church's foundation.
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. 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 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. 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. The British band In the Nursery adapted the poem to music on its 1992 album Duality.
In 1972, National Lampoon did a parody on this prose entitled "Deteriorata", which featured the line: "You are a fluke of the universe".
In response to his Government's losing its majority in the Canadian federal election, 1972 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau quoted the Desiderata by reassuring the nation that "the universe is unfolding as it should."
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.
Three years after Max Ehrmann's death, his widow, Bertha K. Ehrmann, included Desiderata in The Poems of Max Ehrmann, published in 1948 by the Bruce Humphries Publishing Company, of Boston. 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 1976 lawsuit against the magazine's publisher, Combined Registry Company, the court ruled (and subsequently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld) that copyright had been forfeited because the poem had been authorized for publication without a copyright notice in the 1940s – and that the poem was therefore in the public domain.
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- 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. Retrieved 2011-11-10. Note that this reproduces Ehrmann's original, unformatted text; many later reproductions break it into lines of blank verse.
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Warner Bros. Records BS 2570
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- Boyce, Brian (August 27, 2010). "Max takes his seat at the Crossroads of America". Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Indiana). Archived from the original on August 29, 2010. Retrieved 2012-12-31.
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- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document ", Catalog of Copyright Entries, 1927 Pamphlets, Dramatic Compositions And Maps New Series Vol 24 Part 1 (1927)" by Library of Congress Copyright Office (retrieved on 18 August 2013).
- 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". desiderata.com. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Bell v. Combined Registry Company, 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.”).
- 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.