The “Desiderata” Story

Posted in Library of Congress, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on November 5, 2016

There was a poem , of unknown origin, found in a Baltimore church in 1692. It was revived by a Lawyer, who lived in Terre Haute, IN. He liked to read it his friends, and his lips were moving. The attorney , Max Ehrmann, copyrighted this poem in 1927. Another persistent rumor has it that the manuscript was in an ambulance Mr. Ehrmann was following. How the accident victim came to possess this document is a mystery.

Mr. Ehrmann ( the poet laureate of Terre Haute ) wrote 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”. The poem is “Desiderata”, and is a favorite of gift shops the world over.

In 1956, Rev. Frederick Kates became the rector of Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, MD. He had found a copy of “Desiderata”, without the copyright notice. He printed a handout for his congregation on church stationary. At the top of the page was the notation “Old St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.C. 1692”. As the sixties devolved, the poem became famous.

“Desiderata” was the text of a recording made by Les Crane, who found the poem on a poster. He thought the text was in the public domain, when in fact it is copyrighted. Mr. Crane was taken to court, and forced to pay the owners of the copyright . The matter has been in court on other occasions. It seems that Mr. Ehrmann used “Desiderata” in a Christmas greeting, without citing the copyright. Later,during World War II, Ehrmann allowed a friend – Army psychiatrist Dr. Merrill Moore – to hand out more than 1,000 copies of the poem to his soldier-patients, without the copyright.

PG admits to confusion on this issue. Don’t copyrights expire, get renewed, and then expire again? If a work was written in 1927, doesn’t it go into the public domain 83 years later. The wikipedia article about copyrights is long and confusing. Remember, we are dealing with a legal concep,t as it relates to a poem, written by a lawyer.

A site called fleurdelis says the matter depends on your point of view and place of residence. ( Shcredo says flatly that “Desiderata” is public domain. The link is no longer available. The url advises “Beware your Beliefs – They could bring Great Happiness”) (Robinsweb tells of being forced to remove “Desiderata” from her site because of a complaint by the copyright owner.) If you want to be inspired, click on the videos embedded in this post.

In 1972, the National Lampoon produced a new translation, Deteriorata. This is a repost. Pictures are from The Library of Congress. These are Union Soldiers, from the War Between the States.


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