History of the Desiderata

Max Ehrmann (1872 – 1945), a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, is its author. It has been reported[by whom?] that Desiderata was inspired by an urge that Ehrmann wrote about in his diary: “I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift — a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.”[1]

Around 1959, the Rev. Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. At the top of the handout was the notation: “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692.” In the 1960s, it was widely circulated without attribution to Ehrmann, sometimes with the claim that it was found in Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, Maryland, and that it had been written in 1692 (the year of the founding of Saint Paul’s).

When Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a guest in his home found a copy of Desiderata near his bedside and discovered that Stevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards. The publicity that followed gave widespread fame to the poem, as well as the mistaken relationship to Saint Paul’s Church.