Max Ehrmann is buried in Highland Lawn Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana. I photographed his grave marker in April 2008. Max Ehrmann was born in Terre Haute, Indiana on September 26, 1872, to a an emigrant family from Bavaria, Germany.
Ehrmann received his early education from the Terre Haute Fourth District School and the German Methodist Church. Upon graduation, Ehrmann studied law and philosophy at Harvard and edited 'The Rainbow', a national college fraternity magazine. It was at Harvard, that he published his first book, A Farrago, in 1898.
Ehrmann practiced law as Deputy States Attorney for two years. He then worked for a number of years as credit manager and attorney for his brother's manufacturing business.
At the age of 40, Ehrmann left the family business and returned to writing full-time. Throughout his career, he wrote more than 20 books and pamphlets and many essays and poems that were published separately in newspapers and magazines. His most acclaimed work was "Desiderata", originally published in 1927. "Desiderata" has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and anthologies and was produced as a single record by Warner Brothers in 1971.
Max Ehrmann died in 1945, well before "Desiderata" gained its popularity. The poem was popular prose for the "make peace, not war" movement of the 1960s. By the way, Desiderata is Latin for "Things to be Desired." Today, Ehrmann’s Desiderata — first published in 1927 — is among the world’s most popular poems and even won a Grammy Award in 1972. Now reproduced on posters, plaques and greeting cards, the message provided by Desiderata assures Ehrmann an eternal niche in American popular literature, a rank he long has warranted.
Go placidly amid the noise and 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 ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and 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 with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
(c) Max Ehrman 1926
APRIL 2008 EDITORIAL FROM TERRE HAUTE TRIBUNE: Max Ehrmann about to reclaim his seat
Cultural Trail Alliance working to establish memorial to famous poet
Max Ehrmann was once a fixture at the corner of Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute, sitting and watching people pass. Fans of his beloved poetry should soon find Ehrmann’s image there again.
A group in Terre Haute, his hometown, is working to establish a memorial to Ehrmann on the northwest corner of Seventh and Wabash. This group, the Cultural Trail Alliance, includes interested citizens from a variety of local arts, historical and civic agencies and organizations. Their goal is to create a lasting tribute to Ehrmann and his works, and later do the same for Terre Haute’s other internationally known icons, such as Eugene V. Debs.
The alliance’s plan calls for a bronze sculpture of Ehrmann, seated on a park bench. A few memorable passages from his renowned “Desiderata” will be set in bronze and embedded into the path leading to the bench. Visitors will be able to sit down next to Max and read the full text of that poem — a call for peace, serenity and understanding — positioned in a bronze plaque near the foot of the bench.
The shrine would be not only a fitting tribute to Ehrmann, but also a tourist destination for his legion of admirers. “Desiderata” is still quoted 63 years after the death of Ehrmann, who lived from 1872 to 1945. Its opening line is a literary classic: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe crafted a maquette of the proposed Ehrmann memorial for the Cultural Trail Alliance, and he is poised to build the actual seated statue. First, the group must secure funding and donations from potential contributors. The alliance is operating under the umbrella of Wabash Valley Art Spaces, a nonprofit organization that develops public outdoor sculpture throughout the area. Their target is to have the project completed by late October.
Ehrmann represents a positive link between Terre Haute and the world. We urge individuals, businesses and other entities to actively assist the alliance, and give Max a permanent spot at the Crossroads of America.