Desiderata - go placidly

Desiderata was written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s. It is not copyrighted; it is in the public domain. The following commentary is by Baruch Atta - copyright 2009, all rights reserved.

First - the poem itself. Then, my commentary. I hope you will like my commentary and gain from it.
- Baruch Atta

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.
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me...The Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.The Courage to change the things I can.and the Wisdom to know the difference.-- Author Unknown --
-----------------------------------------------------The following commentary is by Baruch Atta - copyright 2009, all rights reserved.

Desiderata - is Latin for "Things to be Desired." The word is in the reflexive case. A more direct statement would be "things that I desire". With the reflexive, the poem perports to be universal, and thus lists things to be desired universally, by all people. By claiming universality, the poem and thus the poet amplifies its own and his own importance. We inspect the poem, and comment on meaning, on applicability (universal or not), and on things missing from the poem. Regarding the latter, we in essence add to the poem, with concepts such as forgiveness and charity. Other similar poetry are also considered and compared.
Go - the first word in the poem, and we are instructed not to remain still, but to "go". Contrast with Ronald Reagan who said "Where ever you go, there you are." hinting at the futility of useless travel.
Go placidly - meaing "be placid", be internally quiet. Do not have internal strife, or be at war with one's self. Like the mishna says, let your insides be like your outsides, that is, avoid the hypocritcal. Say what you think and feel. Don't fake it, keep it real. Do not put up a "game face" unless you are playing a game. Do not play games with emotions with those you love or should love.
Go...amid - this is permission to go there, and be "amid". Even though the "there" may be somewhat undesireable, still you may go there, and travel through. You may think that it would be better not to go "there". You may be right. However, you may go "there" if you "Go placidly".
the noise - sound without meaning. Allusion to people who live without meaning in their lives. These people make a lot of "noise", telling us of their personal prejudices, like and dislikes, and foolish desires.
the haste - these people who live without meaning in their lives understand that life is short, and no one dies without even half of their desires being met. Thus, these people are in a hurry to fulfil their empty desires as fast as possible.
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste - do not be affected by those people, nor their noise, nor their haste. Retain your inner peace, meaning of life, joy, and fulfilment. We all are "amid" by living in this imperfect world, but we should as much as possible, be "placid" and quiet when confrounted with "noise" and "haste".
remember - be aware. Be cognisant of the different types of people, of their desires and wants. Be aware, as much as possible, of everyone around you. Be aware and cognisant of your place, and where you come from and where you are going to. Know.
peace - absence of conflict, self perfection, harmony with others.
peace...in silence - do not reply to their chalenges, taunts, jeers. If you do then you will bring the noise and haste into your life. Your silence guards your inner peace. An unanswered chalenge or taunt disapears like a loud fart. It stinks for a while, then, nothing. That's all that they are.
As far as possible - as much as you are able. You should not only love peace, but you should seek peace and even run after peace.
without surrender - of your morals, character, or values. Because surrender of these would be worse than being in bad terms with someone.
good terms - at peace. Without conflict or arguments. Or if there is conflict and arguments, at least have good communication and understanding, to agree to disagree. At the very least, do not use your opinions as a justification for conflict and war.
good terms with all persons - not just those with whom you agree. You should strive to have communication and understanding with also those with whom you disagree.
Speak - gently, clearly, distinctly. Do not shout, or try to drown out the voice of others. But do speak, when you have something to say. Do not sit silent when you should be heard. Everyone is different, has a different viewpoint and a different way of thinking. There are times when your particular voice is the voice that should be heard.
your truth - that which you know to be true, in your heart. Do not speak that which you think is false. Do not lie. But know that "your truth" is the honest truth as you perceive it. Others may perceive things in a different way.
quietly and clearly - do not shout. Do not try to impress others with the loudness of your voice, or with your vocabulary or education. You should strive to communicate your thoughts and ideas. These are not improved with smooth, elequence. A bad idea, spoken well, is still a bad idea. A good thought, spoken with difficulty, still needs to be spoken and heard.
and listen - and look and feel and smell and taste. Be aware of your world. Awareness of the world enters through the five senses. And through imagination. Sometimes, when you listen, more is communicated by what the other person doesn't say. Your child comes home every day and tells you about his day at school. One day, he comes home and says nothing. What is wrong?
listen to others - to what they have to say, to what they are feeling about the world, and about you. You need this to connect. You need to connect, it is a basic human need.
even to the dull - people of low intellegence.
and the ignorant - people of normal intellegence but uninformed or uneducated.
they too - are people like you and me. You can connect with them, be kind to them, love them. A connection with a dull or ignorant person is still a connection with another human. You gain much in this. More than you think. And they gain, also. This brings peace to the world.
they too - just as you love people that you deem to be dull or ignorant, so too, people who deem you to be dull and ignorant will love you.
they too have their story - and perhaps the story of a dull person will be interesting! The story of an ignorant person will be funny!
Avoid - void and nothingness. You can pick your friends but you can't pick your relatives. So pick your friends wisely. Avoid those relatives who should be avoided. However, relatives, family, good friends, are among God's greatest gifts. These should be cherished and the relationships nourshired.
loud...persons - talking without listening. Talking loud so as not to hear anyone else. Thinking that he should be the only one that should talk.
aggressive persons - who will deny others their freedom, who will command and require obedience.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons - as much as possible, with respect and without insulting.
they are - what they are. They came to be, because there are many different types of people, and each has their place on the Earth. Just not near you.
they are vexatious - they annoy, irk, and irritate. They are trouble and troublesome. Be not loud and aggressive yourself.
spirit - among the many meanings of this word, the author intends, on a simple level, the meaning of mood. The loud and aggressive upset the calm mood. On a deeper level, he may also be warning us of the damage done by loud and aggressive persons to the soul of a sensitive and quiet person. The poem was written in the 1920's. If written today, the author would include loud and aggressive movies, television shows, music and other media.
vexatious to the spirit - you dream of love and happiness, joy and contentment, but loud and aggressive people will deny such to you. They seek to dominate you and control you. They are jealous of your inner spritual calm, of which they are denied. Inner calm is a gift which you can not give, especially to the loud and aggresive. Only you can develop your own inner calm, and perhaps teach about it to those who can learn and accept.
If - warning you to refrain from this.
compare yourself with others - in your own mind. A sensitive person is sensitive to those around. This type of person will be aware of others, their spritual state, their friends, their possesions, their wealth and fame. A less sensitive person will imagine without any real evidence about others.
If you compare yourself with others - Saying my intelligence is greater than theirs, my spritual gifts and achivements are greater than theirs, I am richer than them, I am more famous than them. I have more friends. My friends are of a better class, cooler, more hip. I am more respected. Or, for each comparison, just the opposite.
you may become vain or bitter - definitely, you will become vain or you will become bitter. It is the rare person who compares himself to others and does not suffer vainity or bitterness. It is bad for the person who truely understands that others are better or not better than him. Worse is the person who imagines comparisons falsely.
vain - vainity is a vexation of the sprit. The vain will treat others with distain and aloofness, and generate animosity of others. The vain will ride the feelings of vainity and thus not seek to achive that which they are able, espcially those greater spritual achivements which are real. Vainity is so vaporous; it can easily disolve and leave the previously vain person.
bitter - a taste which implies depression, anxiety, or anger. This is the result when you compare yourself to people who have things that you can not have, or have achived things that you can not achieve. Their success is not your success. Their friends are not your friends. Their children are not yours. Comparison to better people may inspire you to work harder. But more likely it will leave you bitter.
for always - As a fact of life.
there will be greater and lesser persons - a continuum of people. No two persons are totally equal in every way; every person is unique. A person who may be lesser in one aspect may be greater in another aspect. Even in a single aspect of life, whether wealth, health achivements, or even inner calm and personal happiness, no two persons are totally equal.
greater and lesser...than yourself - thus your act of comparison is really an internal act, something that you do to yourself. The author is telling us that such a vain or bitter act will result in vain or bitter feelings. You are responsible for your actions. You can avoid the vain or bitter feelings. Decline the comparisons.
Enjoy - after the author has warned us regarding the vainity or bitterness of unproductive thinking, he now directs us to a more fruitful path.
Enjoy - you may fully take pleasure from and profit by the benefits of...
your achievements - your real achievements. Reaching the goals that you set for yourself. Hitting the target of your aspirations. The measure is you against yourself; what have you achieved for yourself?
your plans - your hopes, desires, asperations. You can enjoy that which you have not yet achieved. You can benefit from that which you do not yet have. If the desire spurs action then idleness is converted to exertion. Dreaming is benefitial; all the more so when it leads to action which leads to achievement.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans - because these are truely yours.
Keep interested - stay involved. Let it be a focus of your life. Family should come first, of course. But do not ignore your career. Be active and even aggresive, within bounds.
career - not just a job or a means of livelyhood. A career should be a calling. Do what you like and you will always like what you do.
however humble - don't think that only the lofty, glorious, or high-status careers are worthy, something to be proud of. Honest work is always dignified. You are distinguished by how you do it, as well as what you do. A career may be deemed by some to be humble, but the humble are also noble.
Keep interested in your...career - be satisfied, but also aspire.
your own career - what you have accomplished will always be yours.
real possession - to be proud of. In retirement, you can look back at a life well lived.
the changing fortunes of time - the high will be lowered and the low will be raised. Times change, and yet remain the same. Horse whip manufacturing is down, so is typewriter manufacturing. Stocks go up. Stocks go down. Strong companies go bankrupt, like Woolworth. Little garage companies grow large, like Apple or Google.
Exercise - vigorously and doggedly.
Exercise caution - read the fine print in contracts. Get good advice. Stay aware and vigilant.
business affairs - buying and selling, making contracts and fulfilling the terms. Paying and being paid. Speculation and enterprise.
Exercise caution in your business affairs - and exercise caution in your affairs of the heart, for that is your business too.
the world - people with whom you do business with, and those that wish to do business with you, and also those that you seek out with whom to do business.
is full - very common.
trickery - deception and fraud. Contract fine print. Ponzi schemes that will not pay off. Promises that were never meant to be fulfilled. Bait and switch. Shell games. Most gambling.
blind - looking without seeing.
virtue - the opposite of trickery. Truthfulness. Fulfilling promises. Full disclosure.
let this not blind you - don't think that everyone is a thief. Because if you do, then you will become one.
what virtue there is - and there is much virtue in the world. The world stands on Truth, Justice and Rightousness. Civilization as we know it requires these. We could not get through even one day without trust in other people. Even driving a car, we trust the other driver to stop at the signal. We trust the on-coming driver not to cross the double yellow line. We trust our employer to pay us, we trust our employees not to steal us blind. We trust the store to have food, and water to come out of the tap. We trust that no one will come and burn down the house.
many persons - most people
strive - attempt to reach. Desire.
high ideals - honesty in business. Ethical behavior. Morality. Love thy neighbor. Do onto others.
many persons strive for high ideals - and most people achive high ideals most of the time. The way to recognize greatness in a person is for that person to be tested with temptation. Few are really tested, most are rarely tested at all. It is fortunate that most people are not conflicted; that their honesty is ingrained, normal and regular. The real test comes when choosing the lesser of two evils. It is hardly a test to choose between the greater of two goods. Choosing between good and evil, right and wrong is hardly a problem for most.
many persons strive for high ideals - and some do not. Be aware and beware of those, and wonder what went awry with them.
and - in addition to those with high ideals, moral and ethical.
heroism - choosing right with courage, when the choice might be dangerous, to risk when the safe choice is not the moral choice.
everywhere life is full of heroism - most people have done something heroic, something which distinguishes from the mundane. The woman who cleans just one more mess without complaint. The driver who doesn't respond in road rage when he might. The child who stands up to the bully.
and everywhere life is full of heroism - worth repeating.
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself - my father gave me this advice before my first date. In relationships, if you are not yourself, but you act as you think the other person wants, then when the other person likes you, he or she really likes the person that you are pretending to be.
Be yourself - unless you are a jerk. Get someone else's opinion. If you are a jerk, if you treat other people badly, then don't be yourself, but strive to improve your personality until you can be yourself and be nice at the same time. Some jerks treat others badly because they don't know that they are behaving badly. Other jerks don't care. The former need training. The latter need instruction.
Especially - most importantly you should strive to be yourself, and show your true feelings, in relationships of love.
do not feign affection - don't say "I love you" when you don't. Especially not when expecting favors in return for love.
Be yourself - let the world accept you as you are.
Be yourself - because you are really wonderful. The other person is lucky to know you.
Be yourself - because you are a child of the universe.
Be yourself - what? You think that maybe you can be someone else? You might want to be someone else, but you only can be the person that you are.
Neither - in addition to being the wonderful you...
Neither be cynical - do not be cynical, do not be skeptical about the motivations of your lover, but trust them, be open and accepting.
love - you are kidding. You expect me to describe love? The greatest poets have not found the right words. You are on your own for this. Love is outside of the scope of this commentary.
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment - yes, she or he blew you off. "Disenchantment" is putting it mildly. You were enchanted with the one you love. Or you were enchanted with the idea of love. And now, it is not there anymore. So you are disenchanted. Sad. Depressed. Or perhaps even suicidal. Don't. Because...
it is as perennial as the grass - There are lots more fish in the sea. There is always another bus. Another train to catch. Believe me, if it did not work out, there was a reason. The fault was not necessarily yours. Look elsewhere. Love will come. Love is everywhere.
Take - it will be freely given with nothing expected in return.
kindly - openly, with respect of elders, with thanks for their wisdom.
the counsel of the years - the wisdom of those older, more experienced than you. Your elders have been through it before. Perhaps they have found the answer. Your problem is their memory. What you fear, they have been a success.
the things of youth - attitudes, feelings, thoughts. The viewpoint of youth is different than that of age.
gracefully - without a fight.
surrendering - recognizing wisdom.
Nurture - Build up, grow up.
strength of spirit - Self image and self confidence. Know who you are and what you want. Be self assured.
to shield you - emotionally stable and spiritually rightous to guard from the consequences of trials and tribulations. Preparations for calamity to protect you from tragedy. Be ready for the pings and arrows of misfortune, emotionally and spiritually prepared.
in sudden misfortune - even misfortune that comes upon you suddenly and unexpectedly, as well as that which you know and expect.
distress - feeling of uneasiness. The feeling that not all is well, someting will happen to hurt you.
distress yourself - as an action, the word "distress" means to apply the feeling of distress. To make yourself have this feeling.
do not distress yourself - So, the author is saying that you, yourself, should not arouse this feeling in yourself. The emphasis is on you, and you should not be the source of this feeling of distress. There may be curcumstances external to yourself, which may be distressing, and then the feeling is normal and justified.
imaginings - thoughts about things that do not exist.
dark - unknown or unknowable; hurtful or harmful; dangerous.
dark imaginings - thoughts about things that may be hurtful or harmful or dangerous, but are unknown and do not exist.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings - because such can and will lead to depression. And depression will lead to inablility to do, or doing actions that are not good. When you are depressed, you will be less able to handle the real world, your interactions with friends and relatives will be affected. Such feelings hold you back from doing and accomplishing that which you want. Imagined and unreal life problems distort your view of the world.
fears - see dark imaginings
fears - the emotion of fear, felt multiple times or for multiple reasons.
fears are born - rather than caused by; when danger is real, the fear is caused by the real threat. But when the threat is imagined, then the fear is born out of imagination, fatigue and loneliness.
fatigue - when tired, and not able to act as vigorously, and not able to defend against the threat.
and loneliness - nowhere to turn for help; feeling abandoned.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness - So, instead of fighing the fear, you should rest, and be a friend, if you can. Thus the fear will disapear. If you can not, then just know that the fear is baseless.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness - so, nurture strength of spirit.
discipline - here, the author intends a spiritual discipline. To enjoy pleasures in moderation, not to overdo or indulge to excess. Enjoyment of eating, but not gluttony. Relaxing after a day of work, but not a life of laziness and sloth. Employment and career, but not to such that work is day and night.
a wholesome discipline - as opposed to the life of the ascetic, who often fasts, denies himself pleasures, afflicts himself, in order to improve himself spiritually.
Beyond a wholesome discipline - in other words, you should be disciplined, structure to your day and a plan for your life. You should.
be gentle with yourself. - but also be kind and sweet to yourself. Don't blame yourself for failings or what you percieve to be failings. Stop the negative things that you say to yourself. Think positive thoughts. Think sweet thoughts. Don't punish yourself over real or imagined sins.
child - innocent
You are a child - still. Even as an adult, there remains that part of you that was a child.
You are a child of the universe - as in "member". You are a member in good standing of the universe club.
no less than the trees and the stars; - or birds or bees. Or bears or moose. Or frogs. Or flowers.
a right - entitlement. Confired upon you by the Master of the Universe.
here - where you are. In this place and time. In this situation. With your friends and relatives, your career, your abilities and skills, your disabilities, the things you own, your community, your country, your planet.
you have a right to be here. - and a priviledge to be here. Enjoy it and be thankful.
clear - if something is clear, it is recognized, apparent and you see it. There is no confusion about this fact. You are totally sure about this and if someone asked you, you would not hesitate.
And whether or not it is clear to you, - It may be clear; it may not be clear. You may be sure; you may be unsure. You may completely disagree. It doesn't matter what you think about this - because this is independent from what you think or feel.
no doubt - emphasis on the the fact. The author is sure, without a doubt. You would benefit to accept this as fact.
the universe - everything far and close. How close? Your nose. How far? The stars.
unfolding - the sequence of events, good or bad, nice or nasty. Everything that happens, happens.
as it should - should implies a Judge.
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. - and best.
peace - without anger and without claims against. No viewpoint of victimhood.
Therefore be at peace with God, - the universe is as it should, and it is the best of all possible worlds.
whatever you conceive Him to be. - because there are different views of the Divine.

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

Advice not given in Desiderata:
to Forgive - forgivness is a key ingredient to happiness, a very desirable characteristic. Forgiveness is vital for a calm and balanced life. Those without the ability to forgive, and forget, are cursed to remember, keep grudges, and try to get revenge, those people are in the jail of grudge and revenge. Forgiveness is desirable for a person. And Forgiveness is very desirable for society, because it is natural in human intercourse to occationally step on toes, and without forgiveness there would never be any peace.

To love and not hate - The golden rule is a very desirable policy. Love breeds peace. The opposite is undesirable. Hate is destructive. Baseless hate is even worse and more destructive.

Friendship - "friendship or death" the Talmud tells us. Without friends, life is not worth living. We take much joy and companionship from our friends. One should seek friends, by being friendly. A true friend is a golden value.

Education and Ideas - ignorance may be bliss, but education is happiness. An odd combination. The bliss of ignorance ignores what can be and what may be, what is and what will be. Only education reveals those. Discussion of Ideas may be the closest and most intellectual mode of connection of human beings. And true immortality is possible through one's ideas living on in the minds of others.

Art - create beauty and enjoy beauty - one who creates is truely living. One who creates is closest to the Creator.


Blogger Tahmid Shahid said...

The interpretation was absolutely awesome!!!! Great job.

2:52 AM, February 15, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This gem deserves positive criticism. Thank you!

8:26 PM, November 07, 2014  

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