A tale about a prose poem

The following is a true story, originally posted on my This World., This Life blog. I want to share thus piece of my work with the Vivaldi Community as well.

I came back in from the doctor’s, satisfied with the news that the tests I had a couple of weeks ago have revealed nothing to worry about.  For an old geezer rapidly heading for his 70th birthday I’m not in bad shape (the selection of aches and pains in various leg joints, relics of my sporting days 40 and more years ago notwithstanding).  A little overweight, perhaps, and inevitably slowing up, suffering from fatigue (too much for my liking) and with vision not what it once was, but still……reasons to be cheerful.

I gave My Beloved a quick call, just to let her know the worries she’s been carrying since the tests can be largely discounted, but please carry on with the better diet she’s insisted I follow, then settled down in my armchair for little R&R: not too long, as I had another medical appointment elsewhere, this one to help a recurring sciatica problem.  I placed my legs up comfortably on the adjacent settee, laid my head back and closed my eyes, relaxing my muscles and my mind.  It was peaceful…..

Unbidden, a few words came into my head, words I hadn’t thought about for a good 40 years.  “Go peacefully through all the trials and tribulations,” they said, “and remember how nice is the silence.” I remember smiling at them, and thinking, what silence? There is no silence.  And it’s true: there is no silence in my life.

Beside me, my dog lay snoring as only a snub-nosed English bulldog can snore – which is to say, loudly. From behind me, through my daughter’s room, I could hear the constant hum and roar of traffic on the road outside: nowadays it’s there virtually 24/7. In front, outside from the block’s courtyard garden, I could hear faintly a hoover in another apartment somewhere in another wing, and over that the engine noise of another flight taking off from the country’s main airport, six kilometres from me as the 737 Max flies.  All perfectly normal, the background sounds of my life, every day, every week – every waking hour (and some when I should be sleeping). Mostly my mind filters them out, but today I opened my eyes, my rest quickly over. Those words were still running through my head, and I remembered where they came from.


Many years ago, in a previous life, my then wife had a tea towel with them on, and many more besides.  It was a very hippy-ish set of verses that she absolutely adored, insisted they made her feel happy whenever she read them, which she did whenever she was feeling down.  With the arrogance of all my 25 years, indestructible, with the strength of youth, I had read them and they had made no impression on me at all….just words. For a while, the tea towel was pinned to the wall, and I countered it with a poster of The Lord of the Rings: a mountain landscape with the Fellowship standing before Minas Tirith, looking not at all like Peter Jackson’s imaginings (apart from Gandalf of course), all glaring balefully at you from whichever angle you viewed it.  The book was (still is) my favourite, read every couple of years, and always I find something I missed previously.  

Both that poster and the tea towel disappeared somewhen, probably during the divorce and separation of belongings, or perhaps during a prior house move or two.   But I remembered the verse on the tea towel was called “Desiderata”, so I Googled it (as you do…..) and read it for the first time in all those years.  My mind had played tricks on me, and I had remembered the words wrong, but the meaning at least was correct. I read it again, thinking. Here is the incantation, in full: 

 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 labours 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.


Maybe my advancing years have something to do with it – certainly the arrogance of youth and invincibility are long gone, never to return – but the more I read it (thrice more while writing this), the more sense it makes to me. As well as the beauty of the language and composition, that for me are as good as anything I’ve ever read and better, far better, than most, I can see universal truths there. Rules for life if you prefer, expressed in clear terms that even the most idiotic reader should be able to understand (whether or not said idiot agrees with them or not). Without realising it, I believe I’ve tried to follow many of them myself, and mostly failed in the effort. But I continue to try, for all I really want is a quiet life now.

It was written by a guy called Max Ehrmann in 1927, according to Google, about whom I knew nothing, never heard the name before. Wikipedia says he was an American writer, poet and attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived between 1872 and 1945, and this prose poem (I still prefer “incantation”: it just seems a better description to me) seems to have been his crowning glory. As legacy’s go, it’s a pretty damned good one.

I can’t help thinking that if more people were aware of Desiderata (it was a very popular hippy text back in the days of my youth) and tried to follow its tenets, the world might be a little better place: but then again, perhaps not. Most people aren’t that way inclined – I haven’t been myself all these years when the verse was out of sight out of mind. Perhaps many millions of people are the same as me: knew it, ignored it, then forgot it for years without number.

Maybe when I finally get my own little office space, with my book shelves and a desk to work at, away from the hubbub going on all around me, I might have to invest in a poster of these words, and my LOTR one (both are still on sale if you go to the right shop or website) and put them up side by side above my desk, not competing for attention on different sides of the room. They would remind me, whenever I looked at them, I think, that for all the garbage in the world, all the bad stuff going on, that it’s really a place worth looking after and enjoying in the days and months and years left to us. It might make me pause and take thought when I’m about to blow my top over something that is really not that important, in the wider scheme of things.

I suspect that would be a good thing for me to do.

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  1. Wow ! Quite a difference from the posts related to technology. Good to read about your other interests. Hope to read more very soon. Good luck and keep writing !


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