When I went to check the lyrics of Desiderata for a game at Ship of Fools, I thought it would be gaggingly sweet, embarrassing. I expected it to be like watching Billy Jack again or reading my high-school poetry–a reminder of how earnestly vapid I was as a teen-ager.
I was surprised to find it not half bad:
Go placidly amid 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 vexations 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.
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 council 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 imaginings —
Many fears are borne 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 sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
It is still a beautiful world.
Be careful. Strive to be happy.
To whatever extent I incorporated that into my life at the time, it was among the better influences about me in those late 1960s, early 1970s. There’s a lot of good advice in it, especially for a teen-ager trying to discover what’s right and true and meaningful in life. There’s much in it that’s consonant with the Orthodox faith I found as an adult.
I would specify more carefully now about God. “Whatever I conceive Him to be,” seems to come dangerously close to making Him up as I go along, but for where I was at the time, it was a step closer to the truth.
It was worn out, wrung of its meaning through overuse back then, even before someone made a Top-40 record out of it. But maybe we need to dust it off again for another generation.