Not Found in Old St. Paul’s Church

2 12 2008

I was talking to my doctor about a new cat food commercial ludicrously touting cranberries and cheese as ingredients. This reminded me of the National Lampoon parody, Deteriorata, from the album, Radio Dinner.

 In the 1970’s, San Francisco media personality, Les Crane recorded a poem, Desiderata. It became a big hit and was one of the anthems of the hippie movement.

 How are these related? In the 1970’s, a dog food commercial emphasized the supposed love for cheese that dogs have, as opposed to their love for anything that might even be remotely edible! In Deterorata, we are asked to give thanks that our dog is finally getting enough cheese.

  So I googled the two, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good Desiderata really is. During my hippie days, word was this was discovered on the wall in Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, dated 1692. Well, that was wrong and you can find the real story here:

 In the Les Crane recording, below, the last line has the phrase “Be careful…” It has been opined that this was a typo introduced somewhere along the line in the history of Desiderata after it was written by Max Erhmann in the 1920’s. It should probably read “Be cheerful…” I like this and agree as “Be cheerful” seems to fit much more in the spirit of the poem.

 There is also controversy over whether or not the poem is now public domain. I choose to give credit and the version below ends with a copyright notice.

 First, here is a written version of Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the 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 to the dull and the 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 or 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 in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

©1927 Max Erhmann


Now here are links to the Les Crane recording followed by the National Lampoon’s parody of the Les Crane recording:

Is your dog truly getting enough cheese?









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