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This article is about the poem. For other uses, see Desiderata (disambiguation).
HistoryAmerican 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 AD 1692". Consequently, the date of the text's authorship was (and still is) widely mistaken as 1692, the year of the church's foundation.
Uses in popular cultureThere have been many uses of the poem in the popular canon:
- 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 concluding her January 8, 1970, interview with David Frost, actress Joan Crawford recited Desiderata.
- 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.
- A Spanish language version by Mexican actor Arturo Benavides topped the Mexican charts for six weeks in 1972.
- 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 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.
- Actor Morgan Freeman interviewed on Oprah Winfrey's Master Class television special (2012), expressed how deeply the poem Desiderata shaped his life.
- Reggae band SOJA has a Grammy nominated album titled Amid the Noise and Haste in reference to this poem.
- Canadian indie rock band The New Pornographers' song You Tell Me Where references Desiderata by name.
Copyright statusThe poem's copyright A 962402 was registered by Ehrmann on January 3, 1927, as "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, etc. Card.", and was renewed by his wife in 1954.
In 1942, Max Ehrmann gave permission to Dr Charles Moore, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, to distribute copies of the poem to soldiers. Three years after 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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