What is a detailed analysis of the poem "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A literary analysis of a poem asks the reader to examine the title, mood, and writing within a specific poem.

The title of Max Ehrmann's poem "Desiderata" originates from the Latin for "something desired." One could look at the title as a direct reference to things actually desired or as Ehrmann naming the one to whom he is speaking to as Desiderata. One could argue this by stating that Ehrmann opens the poem by offering suggestions on how the focus of his poem, Desiderata, should move through life: "Go placidly through amid the noise and haste." The poet also uses the pronoun "you" repeatedly throughout the poem; this also speaks to the idea that the poet is speaking directly to Desiderata. That said, one could also argue that the poet is speaking to the reader directly, as one who desires something. Also by using the pronoun "you," the other argument could be grounded in the idea that we, as readers, are Ehrmann's subjects. He wishes to teach us something about moving through life.

The mood of the poem is optimistic and positive. The poem's mood is defined by examining the poet's word choice. While some words within the poem are negative, these words are only used to illustrate how one should focus upon the positive. With this focus on the positive, one is able to be optimistic in life.

In regards to the writing, one should focus upon the simplicity of the poetic line. Each line offers the reader, or Desiderata, a moment of insight into the world around himself or herself. The lines do not possess any rhyme, and they exist more as symbiotic pieces of advice which will (hopefully) help the reader live a better life. Some of the shorter lines offer the most promising advice: "Be yourself," "Be cheerful," "Strive to be happy."

Overall, the poem speaks to the idea that readers must ignore the negatives in life to ensure that they live positive and impactful lives.

It is my hope that this explanation allows you to construct your own literary analysis based upon the information I have provided for you.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Desiderata" means "things wanted or needed." In the context of the poem, the speaker is sharing with his readers what he desires them to do in the form of directives such as "Go placidly amid the noise and haste" and "Avoid loud and aggressive persons." We may assume these desires for the reader are desires the speaker has for himself, in order to live a "cheerful" and "happy" life.

In order to find happiness, the speaker suggests to his readers that they stay firm in their convictions but do so in a gentle way: "Speak your truth quietly and clearly." Much of the poem focuses on not drawing a lot of attention to yourself; rather, joy can be found in being "humble" and avoiding "compar[ing] yourself with others." The speaker also urges us to put our faith in a master plan we do not understand, as "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

While words of advice are given, caution is also shared, because "the world is full of trickery" and "sham, drudgery, and broken dreams." Despite these warnings, the poem ends on a positive directive, urging us to "Strive to be happy."

The poem's lacks any set rhythm or meter; instead, it is written in prose-like language that speaks directly to its audience, making it easily accessible to a wide range of readers. Because of its optimistic outlook and reminder to find quiet and solitude in a hectic world, "The Desiderata" remains a favorite among many today.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In a way, a person might consider this poem to be a thoughtfully and beautifully worded list of imperative statements that offer advice about how the reader can achieve contentment and even happiness in a world "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams"; "it is still a beautiful world," according to the poem's speaker. The speaker first encourages us as readers to adopt a calm demeanor, to "be on good terms" with people as much as possible, and to listen to everyone, while still speaking our individual truths. The next stanza advises that we avoid people who are toxic and that we likewise avoid comparing ourselves to others. The third stanza suggests that we work hard in our chosen career, exercising caution in business and yet maintaining an open mind about people. Next, the speaker tells us to be true to ourselves, not to fake love or be pessimists about it, because it is "perennial" (i.e., it always returns). In the fifth stanza, we learn to listen to our elders and nurture our own spiritual strength so that we can weather misfortunes. The speaker also advises that we do not borrow trouble, so to speak, and that we treat ourselves gently. In the sixth stanza, the speaker insists that we "have a right to be here" just as the stars and trees do, and "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." In the penultimate stanza, the speaker again advises that we "be at peace" within and without, because, as the eighth stanza claims, the world is still beautiful despite its brokenness. We can and should still "Be cheerful" and "Strive to be happy."

This poem is empowering, in part because it seems to imply that our own happiness is a matter of choice. It does not suggest that we will not endure pain or that we will not encounter deception and wickedness, but it does suggest that we can choose to remain open and hopeful, and it is in this way that we will find some measure of beauty, joy, and peace.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann is a didactic, or morally instructive, prose poem that addresses the challenges of living in a harsh world and provides practical advice for how to weather those challenges and achieve contentment. The poem stresses the importance of remaining calm, despite the barrage of outside forces that threaten to disturb our ability to feel tranquil. It also hails the power of love—particularly God’s love—to help us feel at peace with ourselves.

"Desiderata" consists of eight stanzas, each of which provides specific advice for achieving personal contentment in a harsh and unforgiving world. Ehrmann claims that by respecting others, speaking the truth, practicing tolerance, and following our passions in life and career, the ability to feel calm and content comes within our reach. Erhmann’s poem is one inspiration and optimism. It emphasizes the importance of affirming ourselves, growing from our experiences, and drawing on our inner strengths, and it confirms our ability feel tranquil.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial