Today is the birthday of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. His writing meant a great deal to me when I was 15, 16, and I have never forgotten that.
Here is an extraordinary excerpt from Wind, Sand and Stars – a book I last read in high school, when I was in my Richard Bach-airplane-writing-soulmate-search phase. Listen to this prose.
And yet we have all known flights when of a sudden, each for himself, it has seemed to us that we have crossed the border of the world of reality; when, only a couple of hours from port, we have felt ourselves more distant from it than we should feel if we were in India; when there has come a premonition of an incursion into a forbidden world whence it was going to be infinitely difficult to return.
Thus, when Mermoz first crossed the South Atlantic in a hydroplane, as day was dying he ran foul of the Black Hole region, off Africa. Straight ahead of him were the tails of tornadoes rising minute by minute gradually higher, rising as a wall is built; and then the night came down upon these preliminaries and swallowed them up; and when, an hour later, he slipped under the clouds, he came out into a fantastic kingdom.
Great black waterspouts had reared themselves seemingly in the immobility of temple pillars. Swollen at their tops, they were supporting the squat and lowering arch of the tempest, but through the rifts in the arch there fell slabs of light and the full moon sent her radiant beams between the pillars down upon the frozen tiles of the sea. Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, circling round those giant pillars in which there must have rumbled the upsurge of the sea, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight toward the exit from the temple. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he had got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid.
In 1939, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry met Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
What follows is just one excerpt from War Within & Without: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1939-1944, that describes the weekend encounter with Saint-Exupéry.
The volume opens with the Lindberghs returning to America in 1939 after a couple of years living in England and France. 1939 was a dreadful year, and Europe was hunkering down for war. The Lindberghs settled down on Long Island. Charles Lindbergh was causing an uproar, through his involvement with America First, and much of Anne’s diaries at this time were an anxious apologia for his views. Most of Anne’s family lived in New Jersey, so she was thrilled to be back close to them, and also thrilled that her children of school age could experience American schools for the first time.
Within a month of their return, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry comes to visit the family. The two aviators had never met. Saint-Exupéry had written an introduction to one of Anne’s books and had made an observation about her that cut Anne to the core, something about her being like a little kid, running eagerly to catch up to the grown-ups. “He had seen all that in me?” she thought, almost embarrassed. She felt, even before she met him, that he was a kindred spirit. The entries of his brief stay with the Lindberghs (complete with multiple car breakdowns) goes on for pages and pages and pages. Perhaps Anne was feeling a bit isolated in her own marriage. She didn’t have an affair with Saint-Exupéry, at least not an actual physical affair, but it is clear that she has fallen head over heels for him. Something has opened up in her in her encounter with this man. Something profound. When he disappeared in 1944, she grieved it as hard as if she had known him all her life, even though she had only spent one weekend in his presence. More than anything, what she felt when she met him was a sense of recognition, and the Saint-Exupéry entries are some of the most romantic things she has ever written.
Her feelings for Saint-Exupéry were so strong that Charles admits he feels a little bit jealous. Although there was a language barrier, and Anne was in charge of translating, her French wasn’t that good, so the three people communicated as best they could.
Sunday, August 6th
M. St.-Ex comes down while we are all at breakfast and tells us with some amusement that when he went to bed last night he didn’t notice there were two doors to his room. This morning he got up, went out the wrong door, and could not find his way about. “The bathroom was the second door on the right …. but there is no right … je suis fou!” Land comes in – a cherub with golden hair. St.=Ex looks at him, overcome, it seems to me, with his beauty.
Jon takes him out to see the tortues and talks French to him. “Mais, il parle trés bien le français!” says St.-Ex, delighted.
We talk all morning on the porch, C. and he on Aviation, Germany’s strength, England’s next move, France’s inherent strength, war tactics. Of war: it is so terrible, I say, it must be avoided at almost any price, and he agrees.
Also, C. tells the Göring lion story and at the crucial point Land hands St.-Ex a turtle, which proceeds to act. “Tout a fait comme le lion de Göring!”
There is really nothing to say at this point but “Heureusement que vous n’êtes pas dans un uniforme splendide!”
I ask him to write in our copy of Wind, Sand and Stars, which he does – something polite besides his name – and C. says then that I must write something in Listen! the Wind, which we have given him. I can think of nothing to write except, “In gratitude for the adventures he has given us” and then a quotation from Whitehead on adventure (in English, of course).
We go swimming at 12, and then C. and I take him to his friends outside of Huntington. I don’t know exactly how we find the way, because he is talking all the time about a crash he was in, under water and almost drowned. (He has been in an incredible number of crashes – bad ones – but I don’t see how a man who is that much of an artist can fly at all.)
We ask him if he will come back again and he says he’d love to come back for supper. So we plan to come for him at 5. C. and I talk about him, going back. I am convinced he is going to be killed if he goes on flying. C. talks of the impossibility of being absolutely first-rate – perfection in the world of action – and being anything else (at the same moment). And I suddenly remake an old discovery. It is the striving after perfection that makes one an artist. It is the sense that one is imperfect, unfulfilled, unfinished. One attempts by a superhuman effort to fill the gap, to leap over it, to finish it in another medium. And one creates a third and separate thing: “Adventure rarely reaches its predetermined end. Columbus never reached China. But he discovered America.”
The stutterers (or those who cannot speak well or quickly like me) write. But it is not enough to be a stutterer. One must also have glimpsed a vision of perfect articulateness which presses one on to compensate for one’s inadequacy.
After a quiet lunch I lie in the sun, try to comfort my body after these intense hours of living only in the mind.
Then we go for St.-Ex at 5. He is doing card tricks on the porch with his friends. One man is so ill that it makes me tremble to be near him, to feel his tremulous nearness to Death. I am so conscious of him and his lassitude – life flowing out of him and the gap between us and him, and also of his wife’s tired, carved, sharp and patient anguish – like an old hurt – that I can hardly pay attention to anything else. Is there as much of a gap between life and death.
Then we come home and swim – only I can hardly immerse myself in it; my mind is going so hard, is so quickened, that I can only think of more and more things to say. I can only feel horizons breaking and then breaking again in my mind, like the locked ice pack in the spring – pieces breaking off and flowing away, with a tremendous roaring.
And all the time the sense of life being so precious and running away so fast that not one fraction of a second must be lost.
Coming home in the car we talked – he and C., really, I translating – of missing the desert, of desert weather. How danger and solitude are the two factors that go to form a man’s character, that do the most for him. There is a kind of mountaintop, clear, cold-air austerity about him that reminds me of Carrel or of a monk, dedicated to something – what?
He says he can talk to us as to his own family, and how quickly one recognizes that one is on the same level. “Je comprends tout ce que vous dites.” (“I understand all you say.”) “There are the people one can talk to and there are the people one cannot talk to – there is no middle ground.” The three greatest human beings he has met in his life are three illiterates, he says, two Brittany fishermen and a farmer in Savoy.
“Yes,” I say, “it has nothing to do with speech – quick brilliant speech – though one thinks it has when one is young.”
“Oh, yes,” he says, “mistrust always the quick and brilliant mind.”
And then he goes on to say that the great of the earth are those who leave silence and solitude around themselves, their work and their life, let it ripen of its own accord.
I believe this so utterly that it is like my own thought.
Of the Despiaur head he says that it is a chef d’oeuvre because it does not say it all the first time one looks at it but bit by bit. And that he had thought from my writing that I could sculpt!
We have supper on the porch – with a very red sea and very green trees – and they talk about the state of France, what is wrong with it, various ills, alcoholism. We talk about Dr. Carrel, too, and how they must meet. (And we get bitten by mosquitoes). A little June bug gets caught in my hair. I take it out hastily, a little afraid, and then put it on the table. (If you kill it … I think.) But he picks it up gently and looks at it. “It is trying hard to take off,” he says, and when it does, only to land on his arm. “It was hardly worth taking off for such a short flight!”
Then we walk down to the beach. He talks about the south of France (the interior), where he says we must go and which we would like, and people he would like us to meet.
I say of La Grande Chartreuse: “Quelle vie admirable!”
And we talk of Illiec, where we want him to come. Though in this changing world I fear neither of those things will come true. We are living in a dream interlude – before what cataclysm, I don’t know but fear.
We walk home through the heavy drowning sea of cricket song.
St.-Ex talks of Baudelaire, his life, his poetry. He says that Baudelaire was great not for what he said but because he was one of those who knew best how to knot words, and he recites some of his poetry to me and goes on, about his theory of style – that the same words arranged differently became banal, did not mean the same thing. The unexpressed finds expression in style, rhythm, etc. – words carry only half the freight. Of how inverted words sometimes gave quality.
Yes, I say, it is the breaking of rules, but cannot explain all I mean by that, which is much more – a union of the familiar and the strange which makes for an artistic creation – in fact, for any creation.
Then he talks of the poetic image – which is, technically – very exciting. He describes how in comparing things one has one object and another object and a bridge with which they are linked – so-and-so is like so-and-so. Like is the bridge. But sometimes one has no bridge. The mind must vault the gap, one’s mind creates the bridge. It creates a new thing entirely. A whole new civilization – in the case of “Les Archevêqyes de la mer” one’s mind imagines a whole hierarchy of things, an imaginary world.
“But perhaps this doesn’t interest you?”
“Oh, yes … yes!”
Then he takes the example of the stereoscope – two pictures of the same thing taken from a different angle – you put them together and the mind makes the adjustment. The mind supplies a third picture.
I tell him about the missionary in Baker Lake, translating the 23rd Psalm – the Lord is my shepherd – to the Eskimos in terms of reindeer and whale blubber. He asks about the Eskimos – where they interesting people? I talk a little about their rigid codes. C. disagrees and cites their changing of wives.
Yes, I say, but for utilitarian reasons, not for pleasure. Is that more moral? C. asks. Of course, St.-Ex and I answer together, looking at C.
I hardly know, looking back, which are my thoughts and which his, for he would start a train of thought and I would go off on a line of my own, jumping ahead, finishing his thought, whether correctly or not I can’t tell.
All of this, of course, is not accurately stated, because it has been translated and filtered through my mind. I wonder if it would not be the same if I met any of the people whose minds have touched mine in books – Rilke, or Whitehead (but no, I could not talk to him), V. Woolf (when I most admired her), L.H. Myers (for his preface to The Root and the Flower and Strange Glory), Thornton Wilder, for his Our Town. The man who wrote They Came Like Swallows. Victoria London for Jenny in February Hill. Perhaps my excitement comes because so rarely do I tap that world (my world – even if I am not a master in it – world of artistic vision). I have not yet found my circle, my friends, my nation. If this is true then “O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!”
What a commentary it is on human communication in this world. How impossible it is to know other people. When one finds a person who has the same thought as yours you cry out for joy, you go and shake him by the hand. Your heart leaps as though you were walking in a street in a foreign land and you heard your own language spoken, or your name in a room full of strangers.
We get ginger ale and milk and C. and he talk on what he wants to do in this country and see – planes, factories, etc. St.-Ex says he wants to see the Grand Canyon!
Then to bed, very tired. What a comfort is C.’s unspoken understanding. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And finally I will post what is probably the most famous chapter of The Little Prince – the chapter where the prince meets the fox. I’ll post it in English – but then I also must post it in French, because I first read it in French in high school French class, and the English translation is just not as beautiful. It is meant to be heard in French.
Here is Chapter 21:
It was then that the fox appeared.
“Good morning,” said the fox.
“Good morning,” the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.
“I am right here,” the voice said, “under the apple tree.”
“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”
“I am a fox,” said the fox.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”
“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”
“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”
“It is possible,” said the fox. “On the Earth one sees all sorts of things.”
“Oh, but this is not on the Earth!” said the little prince.
The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.
“On another planet?”
“Are there hunters on this planet?”
“Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?”
“Nothing is perfect,” sighed the fox.
But he came back to his idea.
“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life . I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please– tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me– like that– in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:
“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you– the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose…”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
Okay, so here comes the French!
C’est alors qu’apparut le renard.
-Bonjour, dit le renard.
-Bonjour, répondit poliment le petit prince, qui se tourna mais ne vit rien.
-Je suis là, dit la voix, sous le pommier.
-Qui es-tu? dit le petit prince. Tu es bien joli…
-Je suis un renard, dit le renard.
-Viens jouer avec moi, lui proposa le petit prince. Je suis tellement triste…
-Je ne puis pas jouer avec toi, dit le renard. Je ne suis pas apprivoisé.
-Ah! Pardon, fit le petit prince.
Mais après réflexion, il ajouta :
-Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?
-Tu n’es pas d’ici, dit le renard, que cherches-tu?
-Je cherche les hommes, dit le petit prince. Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?
-Les hommes, dit le renard, ils ont des fusils et ils chassent. C’est bien gênant! Il élèvent aussi des poules. C’est leur seul intérêt. Tu cherches des poules?
-Non, dit le petit prince. Je cherche des amis. Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?
-C’est une chose trop oubliée, dit le renard. Ça signifie “Créer des liens…”
-Créer des liens?
-Bien sûr, dit le renard. Tu n’es encore pour moi qu’un petit garçon tout semblable à cent mille petits garçons. Et je n’ai pas besoin de toi. Et tu n’a pas besoin de moi non plus. Je ne suis pour toi qu’un renard semblable à cent mille renards. Mais, si tu m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde…
-Je commence à comprendre, dit le petit prince. Il y a une fleur…je crois qu’elle m’a apprivoisé…
-C’est possible, dit le renard. On voit sur la Terre toutes sortes de choses…
-Oh! ce n’est pas sur la Terre, dit le petit prince. Le renard parut très intrigué :
-Sur une autre planète ?
-Il y a des chasseurs sur cette planète-là ?
-Ça, c’est intéressant! Et des poules ?
-Rien n’est parfait, soupira le renard.
Mais le renard revint à son idée :
-Ma vie est monotone. Je chasse les poules, les hommes me chassent. Toutes les poules se ressemblent, et tous les hommes se ressemblent. Je m’ennuie donc un peu. Mais si tu m’apprivoises, ma vie sera comme ensoleillée. Je connaîtrai un bruit de pas qui sera différent de tous les autres. Les autres pas me font rentrer sous terre. Le tien m’appellera hors du terrier, comme une musique. Et puis regarde! Tu vois, là-bas, les champs de blé? Je ne mange pas de pain. Le blé pour moi est inutile. Les champs de blé ne me rappellent rien. Et ça, c’est triste! Mais tu a des cheveux couleur d’or. Alors ce sera merveilleux quand tu m’aura apprivoisé! Le blé, qui est doré, me fera souvenir de toi. Et j’aimerai le bruit du vent dans le blé…
Le renard se tut et regarda longtemps le petit prince :
-S’il te plaît…apprivoise-moi! dit-il.
-Je veux bien, répondit le petit prince, mais je n’ai pas beaucoup de temps. J’ai des amis à découvrir et beaucoup de choses à connaître.
-On ne connaît que les choses que l’on apprivoise, dit le renard. Les hommes n’ont plus le temps de rien connaître. Il achètent des choses toutes faites chez les marchands. Mais comme il n’existe point de marchands d’amis, les hommes n’ont plus d’amis. Si tu veux un ami, apprivoise-moi!
-Que faut-il faire? dit le petit prince.
-Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’oeil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…
Le lendemain revint le petit prince.
-Il eût mieux valu revenir à la même heure, dit le renard. Si tu viens, par exemple, à quatre heures de l’après-midi, dès trois heures je commencerai d’être heureux. Plus l’heure avancera, plus je me sentirai heureux. À quatre heures, déjà, je m’agiterai et m’inquiéterai; je découvrira le prix du bonheur! Mais si tu viens n’importe quand, je ne saurai jamais à quelle heure m’habiller le coeur…il faut des rites.
-Qu’est-ce qu’un rite? dit le petit prince.
-C’est quelque chose trop oublié, dit le renard. C’est ce qui fait qu’un jour est différent des autres jours, une heure, des autres heures. Il y a un rite, par exemple, chez mes chasseurs. Ils dansent le jeudi avec les filles du village. Alors le jeudi est jour merveilleux! Je vais me promener jusqu’à la vigne. Si les chasseurs dansaient n’importe quand, les jours se ressembleraient tous, et je n’aurais point de vacances.
Ainsi le petit prince apprivoisa le renard. Et quand l’heure du départ fut proche :
-Ah! dit le renard…je pleurerai.
-C’est ta faute, dit le petit prince, je ne te souhaitais point de mal, mais tu as voulu que je t’apprivoise…
-Bien sûr, dit le renard.
-Mais tu vas pleurer! dit le petit prince.
-Bien sûr, dit le renard.
-Alors tu n’y gagnes rien!
-J’y gagne, dit le renard, à cause de la couleur du blé.
Puis il ajouta :
-Va revoir les roses. Tu comprendras que la tienne est unique au monde. Tu reviendras me dire adieu, et je te ferai cadeau d’un secret.
Le petit prince s’en fut revoir les roses.
-Vous n’êtes pas du tout semblables à ma rose, vous n’êtes rien encore, leur dit-il. Personne ne vous a apprivoisé et vous n’avez apprivoisé personne. Vous êtes comme était mon renard. Ce n’était qu’un renard semblable à cent mille autres. Mais j’en ai fait mon ami, et il est maintenant unique au monde.
Et les roses étaient gênées.
-Vous êtes belles mais vous êtes vides, leur dit-il encore. On ne peut pas mourir pour vous. Bien sûr, ma rose à moi, un passant ordinaire croirait qu’elle vous ressemble. Mais à elle seule elle est plus importante que vous toutes, puisque c’est elle que j’ai arrosée. Puisque c’est elle que j’ai abritée par le paravent. Puisque c’est elle dont j’ai tué les chenilles (sauf les deux ou trois pour les papillons). Puisque c’est elle que j’ai écoutée se plaindre, ou se vanter, ou même quelquefois se taire. Puisque c’est ma rose.
Et il revint vers le renard :
-Adieu, dit le renard. Voici mon secret. Il est très simple : on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
-L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, répéta le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.
-C’est le temps que tu a perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.
-C’est le temps que j’ai perdu pour ma rose…fit le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.
-Les hommes on oublié cette vérité, dit le renard. Mais tu ne dois pas l’oublier. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. Tu es responsable de ta rose…
-Je suis responsable de ma rose…répéta le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.
Voici mon secret. Il est tres simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.