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autolycus Origins: Desiderata (20) RE: Origins: Desiderata 05 Dec 11


Meanwhile, here's the origin of the misattribution.



How it came to be regarded as the wisdom of the ages, and how Old St. Paul's figured in its own troubles, is a tale that even it's true author might appreciate. The church began getting calls about "Desiderata," Mr. Cook and Haller recall, in the early 1960s. The poem had found a foothold in California, where San Francisco's "flower children" embraced it delightedly as a cnturies-old affirmation of their philosophy of love and peace. And from there it spread out, as underground printers, thinking they were dealing with a work in the public domain, started cranking out inexpensive posters.

Momentum picked up even more in the mid '60s. After Adlai E. Stevenson died in 1963, a guest in his home found a copy of "Desiderata" near his bedside, with notations indicating he had been planning to use it on his christmas cards. The publicity that followed spread the poem's fame - and Old St. Paul's - from basement to board rooms. But the questions began cropping up. Some of the words in the poem, literary authors pointed out, were not even in use at the time it was supposedly written. And Old St. Paul's kept denying any claim to it.

Gradually, a Baltimore connection emerged. The rector at Old St. Paul's in the late 1950s, it turned out, had been fond of essays and poems of an inspirationally nature. It was often his practice, says the Rev. Frederick Ward Kates, now retired and living in upstate New York, to mimeograph the writings he liked in booklet form and place them in pews around the church. During lent one year, Mr. Kates recalled in a telephone interview, he came across "Desiderata" ("probably," he says, "in a barber shop reading a magazine") and decided to use it on the front page of one of his booklets. And as was also his practice, he made sure that the booklet carried the letterhead "Old St. Paul's church, A.D. 1692" the year of the church's founding.

Someone who attended Lenten services, Mr. Kates theorizes, picked up the booklet, took a liking to "Desiderata", and passed it along to a friend, and so on. And someone along the way who reprinted it obviously transposed the church's letterhead into the misleading credit line that has been plaguing Old St. Pal's ever since. Whoever picked it up also omitted the name of the author, a relatively obscure Indiana poet by the name of Max Ehrmann.


from an article in Washington Post in 1977 - see Wiki entry on Ehrmann.


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