The Meaning Behind the Desiderata Poem

Michael Shook
Published in
5 min readJul 12, 2019

Inspirational writing at its finest

Desiderata poem on parchment paper
Desiderata image by Michael Shook

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed the Desiderata prose poem. It was really popular in the ’60s and the ’70s and a ton of posters were sold of it. For a long time, there was a legend that it had been found on an old piece of parchment in St Paul’s Church in Baltimore and that the poem itself dated from the late 1600s.

But that was not the case. Desiderata was written by a gentleman named Max Ehrmann from Terra Haute, Indiana, about 1927. He was a lawyer, turned poet, and wrote a fair amount of other works, but the Desiderata poem is his most famous work.

The poem is full of magnificent language and is a great example of the New Thought philosophy that was popular in the early part of the 20th century. Sometimes the language of the poem is so majestic that it’s difficult to understand.

I’ve written this story to show some of the meaning of the Desiderata poem in plainspoken language. The poem is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing. I’ve had it in my possession in one form or another for almost 50 years. I love it.

The words of the original poem below are in regular print. My interpretation of the meaning is in the more stylized print. After the poem, I’ve added some answers to questions people often have about the Desiderata.

The Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

Stop talking to fill the silence and listen to your own inner voice.

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 the ignorant; they too have their story.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Everyone is walking their own path with their own struggles and could really use your good thoughts.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

Loud and noisy persons are almost always trying to get you to pay attention to them instead of the voice of your own heart. The internet and TV are full of these people.

Michael Shook

Plainspoken. Plain thinking. Pragmatically positive.