“There are no tigers on my planet,” the little prince had objected, “and besides, tigers don’t eat weeds.”
“I am not a weed,” the flower sweetly replied.
“I am not at all afraid of tigers, but I have a horror of drafts. You wouldn’t happen to have a screen?”
“A horror of drafts… that’s not a good sign, for a plant,” the little prince had observed. “How complicated this flower is…”
“After dark you will put me under glass. How cold it is where you live—quite uncomfortable. Where I come from—” But she suddenly broke off. She had come to the little prince’s planet as a seed. She couldn’t have known anything of other worlds. Humiliated at having let herself be caught on the verge of so naïve a lie, she coughed two or three times in order to put the little prince in the wrong. “That screen?”
“I was going to look for one, but you were speaking to me!”
Then she made herself cough again, in order to inflict a twinge of remorse on him all the same.
So the little prince, despite all the goodwill of his love, had soon come to mistrust the flower. He had taken seriously certain inconsequential remarks and had grown very unhappy.
“I shouldn’t have listened to her!” he confided to me one day. “You must never listen to flowers. You must look at them and smell them. Mine perfumed my planet, but I didn’t know how to enjoy that. The business about the tiger claws, instead of annoying me, ought to have moved me…”
And he confided further, “In those days, I didn’t understand anything. I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words. She perfumed my planet and lit up my life. I should never have run away! I ought to have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretensions. Flowers are so contradictory! But I was too young to know how to love her.”
On the morning of his departure, he put his planet in order. He carefully raked out his active volcanoes. The little prince possessed two active volcanoes, which were very convenient for warming his breakfast. He also possessed one extinct volcano. But, as he said, “You never know!” So he raked out the extinct volcano, too. If they are properly raked out, volcanoes burn gently and regularly, without eruptions. Volcanic eruptions are like fires in a chimney. Of course, on our Earth we are much too small to rake out our volcanoes. That is why they cause us so much trouble.
The little prince also uprooted, a little sadly, the last baobab shoots. He believed he would never be coming back. But all these familiar tasks seemed very sweet to him on this last morning. And when he watered the flower one last time, and put her under glass, he felt like crying.
“Good-bye,” he said to the flower. But she did not answer him.
(Excerpt from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, pages 23 to 25.)
This little vignette is one of many moments of wisdom in de Saint-Exupery’s slender but important book, The Little Prince. In a tale simple and imaginative enough to entertain children, the author still manages to pack observation after observation about the folly of human nature into the story. Our prince leaves his little home planet and begins to explore the vast universe, finding little more than foolish men that inhabit the neighboring planets. But when he eventually lands on Earth, he befriends a pilot who is stranded in the desert, and shares the story of his travels.
This book never ceases to make me smile, with its imagination, wit and understated wisdom. Come back tomorrow for a full review of The Little Prince.
This post participates in my Focus on Fantasy Reading Challenge. In order to learn more about the challenge and the reading contest, read my original Focus on Fantasy post.