The Good Teacher and The Good Pupil - The Little Prince

The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint - Exupery, 1940

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Introduction

Does age matter in teaching and learning? Is there an essential difference between teaching and learning? In a sense, all of us are learners, whether we are playing the role of teacher or of pupil. A pupil asks questions in the process of learning, and his questions may be so penetrating that they stimulate a process of learning in the mind of his teacher. A teacher gives answers to questions, and they may be so honest and open-ended that they stimulate a process of further questioning in the mind of the pupil. The common idea that teachers are adults and pupils are children perhaps needs to be corrected. The greatest teachers have looked upon themselves as children leading children. In Saint-Exupery's story The Little Prince, from which we present some extracts, the reader is not sure who is the teacher and who is the pupil. The little prince poses a number of questions, expresses surprise at many of the answers and gives the adults he encounters a stimulating learning experience. For although he is a child, the little prince is a teacher as well as a learner.

The Little Prince is a modern parable which has stirred the minds and hearts of countless readers, children and adults alike. It presents a commentary on standard notions of education and attempts to demolish some of the current ideas about what we can and cannot understand, about what is important and not important, and about how we ought to judge and how we ought not to. The narrator of the story is a pilot who, because of mechanical difficulties, has been obliged to make an emergency landing in the desert. He wants to take off as quickly as possible since he has only a few days 'supply of food and water. He is fully absorbed in the

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task of repairing his aeroplane. In those conditions he encounters the little prince, a voyager from a small planet far from earth. What ensues is a series of surprises for both of them, surprises which are loaded with meaning.

The little prince is a symbol of the inner being of man who appears in different traditions and cultures under various names. In the Katha Upanishad, the inner being is described as something "not bigger than a man's thumb" (angushthamatram) The early Greeks called it the psyche. In other traditions it is spoken of as the soul. However, some schools of intellectual thought deny the existence of this little spark and see the human personality as a mere physical, vital and mental complex. This limited concept is at the core of many theories of education where learning is viewed in terms of stimulation and response and the human being seen as a battlefield of conflicting impulses, desires, wills and thought processes with an unstable ego-structure as his helpless leader. In contrast with this limited concept we have in the little prince an enlightening affirmation of the presence of a luminous but searching entity within us, an entity which, by virtue of being a true learner, is also our true teacher and true guide. The little prince is a spark that can grow into afire of light and glory. One lesson that can be drawn from Saint-Exupery' s story is that the teacher should try to discover and awaken the little prince that lives in each child.

The educational consequences of the recognition of that hidden spark could initiate startlingly new trends in educational experiments and invention. The purpose of Saint-Exupery's parable, however, is not to propound any educational theory, but to awaken us to the presence of the inner soul in each human being. And once we awaken to this reality, it is clear that we have to rethink our usual assumptions about education, about the learning process, and about the teacher and pupil.

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TO LEON WERTH

I ask the indulgence of the children who may read this book for dedicating it to a grown-up. I have a serious reason: he is the best friend I have in the world. I have another reason: this grown-up understands everything, even books about children. I have a third reason: he lives in France where he is hungry and cold. He needs cheering up. If all these reasons are not enough, I will dedicate the book to the child from whom this grown-up grew. All grown-ups were once children — although few of them remember it. And so I correct my dedication:

TO LEON WERTH

WHEN HE WAS A LITTLE BOY

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Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing.

 

In the book it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."

I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a coloured pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked like this:

I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.

But they answered: "Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?" My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another

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drawing: I drew the inside of the boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My Drawing Number Two looked like this:

The grown-ups' response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened [ by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown- ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.

So then I chose another profession, and learned to pilot aeroplanes. I have flown a little over all parts of the world; and it is true that geography has been very useful to me. At a glance I can distinguish China from Arizona. If one gets lost in the night, such knowledge is valuable.

In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn't much improved my opinion of them.

Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:

"That is a hat." ;

Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval  forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about  bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased  to have met such a sensible man.

So I lived my life alone, without anyone that I could really talk to, until I had an accident with my plane in the Desert of Sahara, six years ago. Something was broken

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in my engine. And as I had with me neither mechanic nor any passengers, I set myself to attempt the difficult repairs all alone. It was a question of life or death for me: I had scarcely enough drinking water to last a week. The first night, then, I went to sleep on the sand, a thousand miles from any human habitation. I was more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Thus you can imagine my amazement, at sunrise, when I was awakened by an odd little voice. It said:

"If you please — draw me a sheep!"

"What!"

"Draw me a sheep!"

I jumped to my feet, completely thunderstruck. I blinked my eyes hard. I looked carefully all around me. And I saw a most extraordinary small person, who ; stood there examining me with great seriousness. Here you may see the best portrait  that, later, I was able to make of him. But my drawing is certainly very much less charming than its model.

That, however, is not my fault. The grown-ups discouraged me in my painter's career when I was six years old, and I never learned to draw anything, except boas from the outside and boas from the inside.

Now I stared at this sudden apparition with my eyes fairly starting out of my head in astonishment. Remember, I had crashed in the desert a thousand miles from any inhabited region. And yet my little man seemed neither to be straying uncertainly among the sands, nor to be fainting from fatigue or hunger or thirst or fear. Nothing about him gave any suggestion of a child lost in the middle of the desert, a thousand miles from any human habitation. When at last I was able to speak, I said to him:

"But — what are you doing here?"

And in answer he repeated, very slowly, as if he were speaking of a matter of great consequence:

"If you please — draw me a sheep ..."

When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey. Absurd as it might seem to me, a thousand miles from any human habitation and in danger of death, I took out of my pocket a sheet of paper and my fountain-pen. But then I remembered how my studies had been concentrated on geography, history, arithmetic and grammar, and I told the little chap (a little crossly, too) that I did not know how to draw. He answered me:

"That doesn't matter. Draw me a sheep ..."

But I had never drawn a sheep. So I drew for him one of the two pictures I had

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drawn so often. It was that of the boa constrictor from the outside. And I was astounded to hear the little fellow greet it with, "No, no, no! I do not want an elephant inside a boa constrictor. A boa constrictor is a very dangerous creature, and an elephant is very cumbersome. Where I live, everything is very small. What I need is a sheep.

Draw me a sheep."

So then I made a drawing.

He looked at it carefully, then he said: "No. This sheep is already very sickly. Make me another." So I made another drawing. My friend smiled gently and indulgently. "You see yourself," he said, "that this is not a sheep. This is a ram. It has horns."

So then I did my drawing over once more. But it was rejected too, just like the others.

"This one is too old. I want a sheep that will live a long time."

By this time my patience was exhausted, because I was in a hurry to start taking my engine apart. So I tossed off this drawing.

And I threw out an explanation with it. "This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside." I was very surprised to see a light break over the face of my young judge:

"That is exactly the way I wanted it! Do you think that this sheep will have to have a great deal of grass?" "Why?"

 

"Because where I live everything is very small..."

"There will surely be enough grass for him," I said. "It is a very small sheep that I have given you."

He bent his head over the drawing:

"Not so small that — Look!

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He has gone to sleep..."

And that is how I made the acquaintance of the little prince.

(...) It took me a long time to learn where he came from. The little prince, who asked me so many questions, never seemed to hear the ones I asked him. It was from words dropped by chance that, little by little, everything was revealed to me.

The first time he saw my aeroplane, for instance (I shall not draw my aeroplane; that would be much too complicated for me), he asked me:

"What is that object?"

"That is not an object. It flies. It is an aeroplane. It is my aeroplane."

And I was proud to have him learn that I could fly.

He cried out, then:

"What! You dropped down from the sky?"

"Yes," I answered, modestly.

"Oh! That is funny!"

And the little prince broke into a lovely peal of laughter, which irritated me very much. I like my misfortunes to be taken seriously.

Then he added:

"So you, too, come from the sky! Which is your planet?"

At that moment I caught a gleam of light in the impenetrable mystery of his presence; and I demanded, abruptly:

"Do you come from another planet?"

But he did not reply. He tossed his head gently, without taking his eyes from my plane:

"It is true that on that you can't have come from very far away..."

And he sank into a reverie, which lasted a long time. Then, taking my sheep out of his pocket, he buried himself in the contemplation of his treasure.

You can imagine how my curiosity was aroused by this half-confidence about the "other planets." I made a great effort, therefore, to find out more on this subject.

"My little man, where do you come from? What is this 'where I live,' of which you speak? Where do you want to take your sheep?"

After a reflective silence he answered:

"The thing that is so good about the box you have given me is that at night he can use it as his house."

"That is so. And if you are good I will give you a string, too, so that you can

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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 came 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 colour 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.

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tie him during the day; and a post to tie him to."

But the little prince seemed shocked by this offer:

"Tie him! What a queer idea!"

"But if you don't tie him," I said, "he will wander off somewhere, and get lost."

My friend broke into another peal of laughter:

"But where do you think he would go?" "Anywhere. Straight ahead of him." Then the little prince said, earnestly:

"That doesn't matter. Where I live, everything is so small!" And, with perhaps a hint of sadness, he added:

"Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far..."

 

(...)! had thus learned a second fact of great importance: this was that the planet the little prince came from was scarcely any larger than a house!

But that did not really surprise me much. I knew very well that in addition to the great planets — such as the Earth, Jupiter, Mars, Venus — to which we have given names, there are also hundreds of others, some of which are so small that one has a hard time seeing them through the telescope. When an astronomer discovers one of these he does not give it a name, but only a number. He might call it, for example, "Asteroid 325."

 

I have serious reason to believe that the planet from which the little prince came is the asteroid known as B-612.

This asteroid has only once been seen through the telescope. That was by a Turkish astronomer, in 1909.

On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said.

Grown-ups are like that...

Fortunately, however, for the reputation of Asteroid B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume. So in 1920 the astronomer gave his demonstration all over again, dressed

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with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report.

If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on no account of the grown-ups and their ways. Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?" Instead, they demand: "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

If you were to say to the grown-ups: "I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof," they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have say to them: "I saw a house that cost £ 4,000." Then they would exclaim: "Oh, what a pretty house that is!"

Just so, you might say to them: "The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists." And what good would it do to tell them that? They would shrug their shoulders, and treat you like a child. But if you said to them: "The planet he came from is Asteroid B-612," then they would be convinced, and leave you in peace from their questions.

They are like that. One must not hold it against them. Children should always show great forbearance toward grown-up people.

But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference. I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have liked to say: "Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a friend..."

To those who understand life, that would have given a much greater air of truth to my story.

For I do not want any one to read my book carelessly. I have suffered too much grief in setting down these memories. Six years have already passed since my friend went away from me, with his sheep. If I try to describe him here, it is to make sure that I shall not forget him. To forget a friend is sad. Not every one has had a friend. And if I forget him, I may become like the grown-ups who are no longer interested in anything but figures ...

It is for that purpose, again, that I have bought a box of paints and some pencils. It is hard to take up drawing again at my age, when I have never made any pictures except those of the boa constrictor from the outside and the boa constrictor from the

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inside, since I was six. I shall certainly try to make my portraits as true to life as possible. But I am not at all sure of success. One drawing goes along all right, and another has no resemblance to its subject. I make some errors, too, in the little prince's height: in one place he is too tall and in another too short. And I feel some doubts about the colour of his costume. So I fumble along as best I can, now good, now bad, and I hope generally fair-to-middling.

In certain more important details I shall make mistakes, also. But that is something that will not be my fault. My friend never explained anything to me. He thought, perhaps, that I was like himself. But I, alas, do not know how to see sheep through the walls of boxes. Perhaps I am a little like the grown-ups. I have had to grow old.

(...) On the fifth day — again, as always, it was thanks to the sheep — the secret of the little prince's life was revealed to me. Abruptly, without anything to lead up to it, and as if the question had been born of long and silent meditation on his problem, he demanded:

"A sheep — if it eats little bushes, does it eat flowers, too?"

"A sheep," I answered, "eats anything it finds in its reach."

"Even flowers that have thorns?"

"Yes, even flowers that have thorns."

"Then the thorns — what use are they?"

I did not know. At that moment I was very busy trying to unscrew a bolt that had got stuck in my engine. I was very much worried, for it was becoming clear to me that the breakdown of my plane was extremely serious. And I had so little drinking water left that I had to fear the worst.

"The thorns — what use are they?"

 The little prince never let go of a question, once he had asked it. As for me, I was upset over that bolt. And I answered with the first thing that came into my head:

"The thorns are of no use at all. Flowers have thorns just for spite!"

"Oh!"

There was a moment of complete silence.

Then the little prince flashed back at me, with a kind of resentfulness:

"I don't believe you! Flowers are weak creatures. They are naive. They reassure themselves as best they can. They believe that their thorns are terrible weapons..."

I did not answer. At that instant I was saying to myself: "If this bolt still won't turn, I am going to knock it out with the hammer." Again the little prince disturbed

 
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my thoughts:

"And you actually believe that the flowers —"

"Oh, no!" I cried. "No, no, no! I don't believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don't you see -1 am very busy with matters of consequence!"

He stared at me, thunderstruck.

"Matters of consequence!"

He looked at me there, with my hammer in my hand, my fingers black with engine-grease, bending down over an object which seemed to him extremely ugly...

"You talk just like the grown-ups!"

That made me a little ashamed. But he went on, relentlessly:

"You mix everything up together... You confuse everything..."

He was really very angry. He tossed his golden curls in the breeze.

"I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: 'I am busy with matters of consequence!' And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man - he is a mushroom!"

"A what?"

"A mushroom!"

The little prince was now white with rage.

"The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman's sums? And if I know — I, myself— one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing — Oh! You think that is not important!"

His face turned from white to red as he continued:

"If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself: 'Somewhere, my flower is there...' But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened ... And you think that is not important!"

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He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.

The night had fallen. I had let my tools drop from my hands. Of what moment now was my hammer, my bolt, or thirst, or death? On one star, one planet, my planet, the Earth, there was a little prince to be comforted. I took him in my arms, and rocked him. I said to him:

"The flower that you love is not in danger. I will draw you a muzzle for your sheep. I will draw you a railing to put around your flower. I will "

I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more.

It is such a secret place, the land of tears.

(...) But it happened that after walking for a long time through sand, and rocks, and snow, the little prince at last came upon a road. And all roads lead to the abodes of men.

"Good morning," he said.

He was standing before a garden, all a-bloom with roses.

"Good morning," said the roses.

The little prince gazed at them. They all looked like his flower.

"Who are you?" he demanded, thunderstruck.

"We are roses," the roses said.

And he was overcome with sadness. His flower had told him that she was the

 

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only one of her kind in all the universe. And here were five thousand of them, all alike, in one single garden!

"She would be very much annoyed," he said to himself, "if she could see that ... She would cough most dreadfully, and she would pretend that she was dying, to avoid being laughed at. And I should be obliged to pretend that I was nursing her back to life - for if I did not do that, to humble myself also, she would really allow herself to die..."

Then he went on with his reflections: "I thought that I was rich, with a flower that was unique in all the world; and all I had was a common rose. A common rose, and three volcanoes that come up to my knees — and one of them perhaps extinct forever... That doesn't make me a very great prince ..."

And he lay down in the grass and cried.

 

 

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," the fox said.

"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."

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"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 — 'tamed'?"

"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..."

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"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?"

"Yes."

"Are there hunters on that planet?"

"No."

"Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?"

"No."

"Nothing is perfect," sighed the fox.

But he came back to his idea.

"My life is very monotonous," he said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all 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 comer 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..."

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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 came 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 colour 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.

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"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passer-by 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.

 

(...) It was now the eighth day since I had had my accident in the desert, and I had listened to the story of the merchant as I was drinking the last drop of my water supply.

"Ah," I said to the little prince, "these memories of yours are very charming;

but I have not yet succeeded in repairing my plane; I have nothing more to drink;

and I, too, should be very happy if I could walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water!"

"My friend the fox —" the little prince said to me.

"My dear little man, this is no longer a matter that has anything to do with the fox!"

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"Why not?"

"Because I am about to die of thirst..."

He did not follow my reasoning, and he answered me:

"It is a good thing to have a friend, even if one is about to die. I, for instance, am very glad to have a fox as a friend..."

"He has no way of guessing the danger," I said to myself. "He has never been either hungry or thirsty. A little sunshine is all that he needs..."

But he looked at me steadily, and replied to my thought:

"I am thirsty, too. Let us look for a well..."

I made a gesture of weariness. It is absurd to look for a well, at random, in the immensity of the desert. But nevertheless we started walking.

When we had trudged along for several hours, in silence, the darkness fell, and the stars began to come out. Thirst had made me a little feverish, and I looked at them as if I were in a dream. The little prince's last words came reeling back into my memory:

"Then you are thirsty, too?" I demanded.

But he did not reply to my question. He merely said to me:

"Water may also be good for the heart..."

I did not understand this answer, but I said nothing. I knew very well that it was impossible to cross-examine him.

He was tired. He sat down. I sat down beside him. And, after a little silence, he spoke again:

"The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen."

I replied, "Yes, that is so." And, without saying anything more, I looked across the ridges of sand that were stretched out before us in the moonlight.

"The desert is beautiful," the little prince added.

And that was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams ...

"What makes the desert beautiful," said the little prince, "is that somewhere it hides a well ..."

I was astonished by a sudden understanding of that mysterious radiation of the sands. When I was a little boy I lived in an old house, and legend told us that a treasure was buried there. To be sure, no one had ever known how to find it; perhaps no one had ever even looked for it. But it cast an enchantment over that house. My home was hiding a secret in the depths of its heart...

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"Yes," I said to the little prince. "The house, the stars, the desert — what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!"

"I am glad," he said, "that you agree with my fox."

As the little prince dropped off to sleep, I took him in my arms and set out walking once more. I felt deeply moved, and stirred. It seemed to me that I was carrying a very fragile treasure. It seemed to me, even, that there was nothing more fragile on all the Earth. In the moonlight I looked at his pale forehead, his closed eyes, his locks of hair that trembled in the wind, and I said to myself: "What I see here is nothing but a shell. What is most important is invisible..."

As his lips opened slightly with the suspicion of a half-smile, I said to myself, again: "What moves me so deeply, about this little prince who is sleeping here, is his loyalty to a flower — the image of a rose that shines through his whole being like the flame of a lamp, even when he is asleep ..." And I felt him to be more fragile still. I felt the need of protecting him, as if he himself were a flame that might be extinguished by a little puff of wind...

And, as I walked on so, I found the well, at daybreak.

 

(...) "Men," said the little prince, "set out on their way in express trains, but they do not know what they are looking for. Then they rush about, and get excited, and turn round and round ..."

And he added:

"It is not worth the trouble ..."

The well that we had come to was not like the wells of the Sahara. The wells of the Sahara are mere holes dug in the sand. This one was like a well in a village. But there was no village here, and I thought I must be dreaming...

"It is strange," I said to the little prince. "Everything is ready for use: the pulley, the bucket, the rope ..."

He laughed, touched the rope, and set the pulley to working. And the pulley moaned, like an old weathervane which the wind has long since forgotten.

"Do you hear?" said the little prince. "We have wakened the well, and it is singing..."

I did not want him to tire himself with the rope.

"Leave it to me," I said. "It is too heavy for you."

I hoisted the bucket slowly to the edge of the well and set it there — happy, tired as I was, over my achievement. The song of the pulley was still in my ears, and I could see the sunlight shimmer in the still trembling water.

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"I am thirsty for this water," said the little prince. "Give me some of it to drink..."

And I understood what he had been looking for.

I raised the bucket to his lips. He drank, his eyes closed. It was as sweet as some special festival treat. This water was indeed a different thing from ordinary nourishment. Its sweetness was born of the walk under the stars, the song of the pulley, the effort of my arms. It was good for the heart, like a present. When I was a little boy, the lights of the Christmas tree, the music of the Midnight Mass, the tenderness of smiling faces, used to make up, so, the radiance of the gifts I received.

"The men where you live," said the little prince, "raise five thousand roses in the same garden — and they do not find in it what they are looking for."

"They do not find it," I replied.

"And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water."

"Yes, that is true," I said.

And the little prince added:

"But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart..."

 

From Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince, trans. Katherine Woods

(London: Pan, 1974), pp. 7-19, 25-28,62-72, 74-79.

All drawings by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

 

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Biography

 

                   Whence come I? I come from my childhood.

                    I come from childhood as from a homeland.

When one turns to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, it is immediately apparent that he led a very intense life during his childhood. He had a great taste for the strange and the marvellous and he had a fertile imagination.

His summer holidays were particularly memorable, spent with his brother and three sisters in one of those numerous nondescript but homey castles of France, the old chateau of Saint-Maurice-de-Remens. The brothers and sisters were all bright and lively, but Antoine was the wildest of all and often autocratic in organizing their games. Saint-Exupery later remarked that his childhood memories are bathed in summer light. "For a home such as this laid down layers of sweetness, forming, deep in the heart, that obscure range from which, as waters from a spring, are born our dreams."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born with the century, in 1900. At school, first a Jesuit institution in France, then another religious school in Switzerland, he did not prove particularly successful except in French composition. He was subject to some mockery due to his peculiar round face with upturned nose and a comical skyward gaze which earned him the nickname pique-la-lune (moon pecker), which he detested. He gave the overall impression of being an eccentric character — demanding, immoderate and unsatisfied. The College of Saint-Jean at Fribourg, Switzerland, was a pleasant place, with progressive views on education. But tragedy struck suddenly when Saint- Exupery's brother Francois, who was studying with him there, fell ill, returned to France and died. In the same year, 1917, Saint-Exupery joined the Ecole Bossuet in Paris to study for the French Navy entrance examination. Contrary to his expectations, he failed. He then registered without enthusiasm at the School of Fine Arts for a course in architecture. He was unhappy and uncertain about his future. His aspirations were vague, but he felt the need to do something, to have a profession which was out of the ordinary. The urge for adventure lay dormant within him.

When he was about twenty, Saint-Exupery did military service but did not like military life with its emphasis on physical exercise. It seems he felt no immediate interest in flying, but was attracted by the sheer adventurousness of the first commercial flights. Shortly after the end of the First World War the first commercial lines had been established: Paris-London, Toulouse-Casablanca, Paris- Bucharest. The travellers had to be stoical, for there were many accidents. The planes were very light and their engines uncertain. Pilots and machines operated as one unit. It was, as Saint-Exupery put it later, "the mystery of metal turned into living flesh."

Saint-Exupery studied both military and civil aviation, and while still an army man obtained a civil pilot's license. He left the army in 1923. At that time, flying was still a sport for him, not yet the great obsession for which everything would later be sacrificed.

For three years thereafter he tried various jobs but was neither happy nor successful. His lack of resources was somewhat compensated by the many invitations for lunches and dinners extended to

 
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him as Count Antoine de Saint-Exupery, by Parisian society. Yet this life depressed him and his only remedy was to snatch a few hours of flying. Flying now became a real passion for him.

In October 1926 he joined the Latecoere Airlines Company with headquarters in Toulouse. The planes had no radios and were not built for the kind of storms they had to face above the mountains. He was put through a gruelling training. For the first time, Saint-Exupery was out of his aristocratic milieu, leading a common life with the other pilots, most of whom stayed at the same small hotel. In this new life, he satisfied his need to associate with men he considered superior, men removed from the shabby futilities of ordinary life. "The aeroplane is a means of getting away from towns and their book-keeping and coming to grips with reality... It is the men and not flying that concerns me most."

In October 1927, one year after joining Latecoere Airlines he was posted to Cape Juby in North Africa and put in charge of the refuelling station. There he led a life of austerity, which suited him. He wrote happy letters to his mother, telling her, "I don't need anything" — an uncharacteristic statement from one who had been seeking financial assistance from his mother for years. What moulded Saint-Exupery were his aircraft, the desert (which he loved at first sight), his comrades and, in particular, the comradeship. "Happiness! It is useless to seek it elsewhere than in this warmth of human relations. Our sordid interests imprison us within their walls. Only a comrade can grasp us by the hand and haul us free."

One year later he was back in France where he prepared himself to become Managing Director of Aeroposta Argentina, a job he took up in October, 1929. Meanwhile, his first book, Southern Mail had been published and was a success.

When Saint-Exupery reached Buenos Aires he was already a celebrity, both as a pilot and as a writer. For the first time he was well off, thanks to a large salary which he spent recklessly. The austerity of Juby was forgotten but the two years in Buenos Aires enlarged his experience of life. Besides the social aspect, what he enjoyed most about his job were the many opportunities it  offered to fly and travel. Flying above the Andes, the high mountains of South America, made a  lasting impression on him.

In the spring of 1931 he returned to France with Consuelo Carrillo from San Salvador, a petite, ; exuberant woman, full of wit and intelligence. Their marriage marked the beginning of a rather ( extravagant and bohemian life; the couple went through many ups and downs, particularly in their relationship. They had constant financial problems, since both tended to spend recklessly. Along with Consuelo, Saint-Exupery brought the manuscript of Night Flight. After three months in ( France, instead of returning to South America, he went to Casablanca to fly the Casablanca-Dakar  line as an ordinary pilot. The reasons for this change are not known.

In December 1931, Saint-Exupery received the coveted prize Femina for Night Flight. The following years were difficult for him. Apparently hesitating between the careers of pilot and ; writer, he took long leaves of absence and in 1933 he lost his job in Casablanca. He applied for a a job with Air France, which eventually hired him not as a pilot, but in the publicity department.

The next five years continued to be difficult. He tried several times to establish long-distance flight records. One such attempt was to fly from Paris to Saigon in less than eighty-seven hours,

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He failed, and this put him in further financial troubles. Another attempt between New York and Tierra del Fuego ended in an accident. Meanwhile he wrote a few newspaper articles which again showed his qualities as a writer.

During these years, he was based in Paris, and frequented the Left Bank cafes. "Customers who saw that tall, husky fellow, carelessly dressed, puffy-faced, half-bald, were surprised to learn that he was no other than the famous airman and writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of Southern Mail and Night Flight"

One of his friends describes him during that time: "Saint-Exupery had a horror of mediocrity.

He liked to enter into long discussions on a variety of subjects. There was practically no subject on which he was not sufficiently informed to discuss it even with a specialist. His universality of interests and knowledge smacked of genius. He was a writer, poet, philosopher and aviator, but he could talk interestingly on biology, genetics, physics even when the Quantum theory or the Theory of relativity were concerned, astronomy, sociology, painting, music."

But Saint-Exupery still felt unhappy. He missed the comradeship of the early years, the hard but beautiful life. "Tell me what I am seeking and why, leaning against my window, leaning against the city which holds my friends, my desires, my memories, for I am full of despair."

He thought himself born to do great things but was now losing faith in himself. On top of that, he had financial worries. Saint-Exupery was not attached to money, but he liked to spend it. He and his wife moved from apartment to apartment, living an expensive bohemian life which he could ill afford.

In 1939 the French Academy awarded him the first prize for his novel Wind, Sand and Stars. Saint-Exupery went to the USA, where his book met with great success. The Second World War had started, and upon his return to France he was conscripted into the Air Force and assigned a job as flying instructor, a big disappointment to him since he wanted to join a fighting squadron. After much effort he finally was assigned to an air reconnaissance group. He was happy to find some comradeship again, yet felt the absence of men of his own calibre. He was also growing bitter about the mediocrity of the French leadership, both civil and military.

Saint-Exupery executed dangerous missions over Germany. In August 1940, he was demobilized and returned to the south of France where he worked on The Wisdom of the Sands. "I am working on my posthumous book," he remarked to his sister.

Towards the end of 1940, he went again to the United States. He was quite disheartened by the German victory and the French defeat, but America's entry into the war in 1941 gave him hope. Flight to Arras was published in 1942, and was received positively in the USA and enthusiastically in France. After the American landing in North Africa, he wanted to join the fighting again and was accepted, despite his age (forty-three) and some health problems. He left the United States in April 1943 with an American military convoy. The news of the arrival of Saint-Exupery, the famous airman and writer, had a tonic effect on the French pilots in North Africa. "From that moment, I began to hope," said Jules Roy, a French writer.

Saint-Exupery had to struggle to be accepted as a war pilot. For one year he made dangerous reconnaissance missions, mostly over France. Before leaving America he had remarked, "I won't

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be back." He seemed almost indifferent to the idea of death. On 31 July 1944, at the end of what might have been his last dangerous mission, his plane was attacked and plunged into the sea..

Saint-Exupery always spoke of death with great serenity, and sought to understand its significance. He said, "There are no more things-in-themselves, but only aspects of that divine hand which binds things together."

Saint-Exupery was not religious but believed in a kind of "religion of man" and in evolution. About a young girl he chanced to see at Punta Arenas he wrote, "Born yesterday of the volcanoes, of green-swards, of brine of the sea, she walks here already half-divine." And in the last sentence of Wind, Sand and Stars he says, "Only the spirit, if it breathe upon the clay, can create the Man."

Saint-Exupery's personality was in many ways remarkable. He was a mathematical genius and with more application might have been a successful inventor. He possessed unusual psychological insight, was hypersensitive, intuitive and felt a thirst to investigate every domain of knowledge. He could be extremely charming, yet if he felt indifference towards a person could grow unpleasant. He had no time to waste on anyone he deemed incapable of noble feelings.

The Little Prince was written in 1941-42 at the same time as Flight to Arras, Letter to a Hostage and part of The Wisdom of the Sands. "This little book had a curious genesis," writes Saint- Exupery's biographer Marcel Migeo. "When Bernard Lamotte began to illustrate Flight to Arras, Ms. Reynal asked if she might keep the first drawing. Saint-Exupery wrote a droll inscription across it: 'For Elisabeth. Anyone else who has this in his possession is a thief,' and in one comer he drew a small winged figure. He kept on 'doodling' with the little flying creatures; and his friends commented that they were so good, why not put them into a book. Eugene Reynal suggested that he try colouring them — and so the pictures and the story of The Little Prince were evolved simultaneously.... Certainly he must have enjoyed writing this little book. Escaping the dissensions of his fellow men, he entered the pure realm of childhood. It also offered him a new method for expressing his general philosophy."

Above all, Saint-Exupery had a great sense of the need for personal transformation. For him this was the true aim of human life.

Based on Marcel Migeo, Saint-Exupery: A Biography (London: MacDonald, 1961)

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