tennis girl poster

Despite what you might have read about the ‘Swinging 60’s’ – ‘free love’, ‘Camberwell carrots’, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and so on – young people at the time weren’t just interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. For all their long hair, bra burning and “Peace and Love” other things were also grabbing their attention like eastern mysticism, equal rights, the environment and macrobiotic diets and there were plenty of books and poetry around to support their curiosity. Here are a few of them:-

psychedelic cream

  • “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” by Carlos Castaneda about the wisdom and teachings of a Yaqui Native American shaman.
  • “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull” by Richard Bach about a seagull learning to fly. It is also a homily on self perfection.
  • “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran – 26 philosophical prose poems about many aspects of life from love and homemaking to religion and death.
  • “Knots” by R.D Laing. Written by a psychiatrist ‘Knots’ is a series of powerful and witty dialogue-scenarios about the many complexities of human relationships.

Old St Pauls Church in Baltimore

But the one that you were most likely to find pinned up on the wall in the late 60’s, alongside the Athena ‘Tennis Girl’ scratching her backside or the psychedelic ‘Cream’ poster, was the ‘Desiderata’ – an inspirational poem which offered a simple guide to ways of finding peace, contentment and a meaning to life. At the time of its publication in 1971 it was thought that the poem had been found in Old Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore and written in 1692.

Max Ehrmann

‘Desiderata’ was actually written in 1927 by the American poet and attorney Max Ehrmann (1872-1945). In 1956 the poem was included in a compilation of devotional material by the Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland. The compilation included the church’s foundation date:- “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692”. Consequently, the date of the text’s authorship was (and still is) widely mistaken as 1692. ‘Desiderata’ went largely unnoticed until its use in spoken word recordings in the late 1960’s. One of the first to use the poem was Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a Mr Spock, in his 1968 album “Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy.” His rendition is not the only one to change the second-to-last sentence from “Be Cheerful” to “Be Careful”… a mistake in my opinion.

Children of the universe

If you are of the generation that wore loons and kaftans and smoked “wacky woodbines” you may remember ‘Desiderata’ and still value its message. If not – or if you still looking for a New Year’s resolution – I leave it with you to think about as we step apprehensively into 2016. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. Remember – you are a child of the universe!


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.


A typically 1970’s rendition of the Desiderata


— from Martyn Day