The Suit: For 2016, Spades is my suit for “Short, Indiana-related works of Nonfiction”
The Selection: “Poet, Prophet and Philosopher (Max Ehrmann)” from Forgotten Hoosiers: Profiles from Indiana’s Hidden History (more info on the book at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781596297463)
The Author: Fred Cavinder. He has written several Indiana-themed books and was a long time reporter for the Indianapolis Star newspaper. I’ve featured two other pieces by him in Deal Me “IN” 2016: “The Gentleman of the Press in Skirts” and “Politics and Poetry”
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
Poet, Prophet and Philosopher (Max Ehrmann)
“I am washing myself clean,” he said during one stay at Turkey Run (State Park), “of the mental dust of the city.”
(Turkey Run State Park image above from visitindiana.com)
Learning about Hoosier Max Ehrmann has been one of the “great discoveries” of my 2016 Deal Me In project thus far. If you’re like me, you may not recognize the name, but I’d almost guarantee that, at some point in your life, you’ve read – and appreciated – something he wrote. He’s particularly known for a prose poem titled “Desiderata.” Now, does that title ring a bell? It’s pretty short so I’m going to include it below:
(Desiderata poem picture from: quotesgram.com)
Can you confirm whether or not you’ve seen this before? I’m guessing you have. I’d never thought much about its origin until today, though, and what do you know, it was written by a Hoosier! 🙂 Anyway, I’ve always thought those were pretty good words to live by, even if I’ll admit it is often difficult to follow all the poem’s directives. Ehrmann, however, seemed to have done so in his own life.
After reading this piece, I’ve decided Ehrmann was a man after my own heart, and he and I aren’t that much different (well, except for the fact that he was extremely talented, of course!). His time spent working in more ‘traditional’ business (rather than arts and letters) were not times he enjoyed. E.g. “His heart wasn’t in it. ‘Had it not been for some other enterprise of the mind in leisure hours, I should have died,’ he wrote.” He also spent much of his time at home “surrounded by books, busts of Dante and Shakespeare and a bronze paperweight of Buddha.” and “A grade school teacher named Louis Peters inspired him to read. As an adult , his rooms in Terre Haute overflowed with books.” And, finally, “He never quarreled with the need to earn a living, just the ‘brutal business world’ that it involved.” Yes, he sounds like a guy I would have liked to hang out with!
He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and later become president of the Terre Haute Literary Club. He seems to have been universally admired and liked by the people of that city (not surprising, if he did indeed follow the dictums of the Desiderata). His other most famous work was a poem called simply “A Prayer” It may be read online here.
(above sculpture of “Terre Haute Treasure” Ehrmann found at Wabash and 7th in that fair city. photo from wthitv.com)
Ehrmann is someone I’ll definitely be reading more of – and about – after my Bicentennial reading project has long since finished. Cavinder sums up Ehrmann quite well in the following:
“In a sense, Ehrmann was a candidate to be forgotten. By all accounts, he was a man who lived austerely and simply. He never wanted fame or money, associates said. He shunned publicity and did not care for “things.” The stuff of philosophy and the soul were his palette.”
Thanks to Fred Cavinder for writing this book and for bringing this man to my attention. Mr. Ehrmann, it was nice to meet you, sir.
So, what about YOU, dear reader? Are you familiar with the Desiderata? Are you old enough to remember a musical adaptation of it that was done in the ’70s? I <cough, cough> might be… 🙂
(Below [photo from the book]: Ehrmann was also an archery enthusiast, something I’m sure fellow Hoosier literary giant Maurice Thompson would have approved of!)