The meaning of Desiderata

Desiderata, which translates from Latin as “desired things,” is a famous poem written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann (1872–1945).  It is written in an old-style English.  Some people believe he translated it from the text on the stone wall of the bell tower of Old Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland.  It urges people to see the beauty and troubles of the world through wise, hopeful and compassionate eyes.  It was mostly unknown in the author‘s lifetime, but became well known after its use in an Anglican Church service, and after being found in 1965 at the deathbed of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson II.  The poem became very well-known among the “baby boom” generation in the 1960s and 70s.  Here is the text, followed by my modern English version, which is easier to understand.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the paragraph above.


Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, 

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,

even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.


Avoid loud and aggressive persons;

they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain and 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. 


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.

Neither be cynical about love,

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,

it is as perennial as the grass.


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.


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.

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 with your soul.

With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful

Strive to be happy


Max Ehrmann 1927


Click on the audio recording below to hear the poem.

Go calmly through a world of noise and fast living

and remember there is peace in silence.

Without being untrue to yourself, try to get along with everyone

Say what you believe quietly and clearly, and listen to others

because everybody, no matter who they are, has a story. 


Avoid loud and aggressive people;

their annoying behavior can bring you down.

If you compare yourself with others,

you may become conceited or hateful

because there will always be others who are better or worse than you


Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans for the future

Stay interested in your own career, even if you think it’s not very important;

You’ll be glad you have it when everything around you changes.


Be cautious when you do business with people

because the world is full of those who will take advantage of you.

But don’t think there’s no goodness out there;

many people are trying to improve themselves;

and all over the world people are doing what’s right.


Be yourself.  Above all, don’t pretend to love.

Also, don’t think love doesn’t exist

because even when it seems that everything is getting worse,

love is as everlasting as the grass.


Learn from your experiences,

and let go of the things you could only do when you were young.

Learn to be strong if things should suddenly go wrong.

But don’t imagine the worst.

Many fears are the product of fatigue and loneliness. 


Apart from a healthy 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 you know it or not,

the universe is definitely evolving as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with your God,

whatever you think that is,

and whatever you do and whatever you dream

in this noisy and confusing life, stay peaceful in your soul.

Even with all it’s dishonesty, hard work and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world, so be as happy as you can.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the modern version.


desired – wanted
urges – advises, encourages
compassionate – sympathetic, wanting to help others
author – writer
deathbed – the bed where someone dies
baby boom – all the people born between 1946 and 1964
untrue – doing something you don’t believe in
get along – be friendly
aggressive – doing anything necessary to succeed
annoying – bothersome, irritating
bring you down – make you less happy
conceited – thinking you’re special
achievements – things that you worked hard for
career – what you mostly do to make money
cautious – careful
take advantage of you – take your money but not give you much
pretend – act as if it’s real
everlasting – continuing forever
experiences – things that you do or that happen to you
let go of – stop trying to do
fatigue – tiredness
discipline – doing things that you know you should
universe – all the stars and planets everywhere
a right – something no one can take away
evolving – developing
confusing – complicated, not easy to understand
soul – the part of you that doesn’t die
broken dreams – goals that you never achieve

Pronunciation Exercise:  Listen and repeat the above vocabulary on the audio file below.

© 2015 Ambien Malecot for modern version and vocabulary lesson only  

Comment (7)

  • Ambien Malecot| April 26, 2013

    I enjoyed making that poem more understandable. It’s one of my favorites. You can communicate with me by sending an email to:

  • nikki| November 26, 2014

    i like it ambien keep it up

  • Nadine Marie| January 23, 2015

    Lovely version/translation, thank you!

  • Catrina| January 23, 2015

    I believe everlasting to be an inaccurate replacement for perennial. Perennial suggests a cycle of death and birth, which more accurately describes love. In love, sometimes we may fall out, but through persistence, we love again. This is why there is so much divorce. People are not persistent in love.

  • Desiderata — I AM A Child Of The Universe, I Have The Right To Be Me! | Aligning With Truth| January 23, 2015

    […] when I googled it today, I came across this post that contained a modern English version of the poem. It isn’t necessarily a ‘better’ version […]

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