I found several stanzas of Desiderata outside an ice cream shop while staggering around in Park Slope back in 2011. I describe myself as practical and not especially spiritual, but I have long admired its precepts. The prose poem was composed in the early 1920s by a Terra Haute native, Max Ehrmann (1872-1945). Its title means “things desired.” I had always assumed it was as ancient as the I Ching; not quite.
Although Ehrmann copyrighted Desiderata in 1927, and it received distribution, it was not published in any form until 1948. Though it was written as one lengthy paragraph by Ehrmann, it was subsequently separated into stanzas, as you see it here, by editors in various newspapers and magazines in which it appeared. In 1960 the Reverend Frederick Kates included it in a set of devotional materials at St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore though a quick read of the text mentions no deity.
In 1968 Leonard Nimoy included it on his album, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy; the erstwhile “Mr. Spock” released several albums of spoken-word and sung material in his Star Trek years, 1966-1969. However, Desiderata attained perhaps its greatest fame when top 40 DJ and later TV talk show host Les Crane took his spoken word version (albeit with hippy-dippy strings and choir) into a Top 10 pop hit in 1971. Ehrmann’s family received royalties.