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Saturday, February 5, 2022

Who is the little prince, who the pilot, the fox, the rose?

Roses are not rare on earth. No investor would assign to any rose a value of its weight in gold, however heavy with dew the petals. If you know the story of The Little Prince, the classic tale of imagination by French pilot and writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry, you will recall the little prince’s disappointment when he discovers how common roses are here and realizes that his rose, back on his tiny planet, is not one of a kind, after all. He had cared for her so tenderly, believing her unique au monde, as she had assured him she was. 


It is the fox, who begs to be tamed (which is, he explains, to have ties established, for instance between himself and the boy), who teaches the little prince the inestimable value of relationship.


“…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 she has tamed me….”


But there comes a time when the fox and the boy must part, and as the fox is overcome with sadness the boy thinks their friendship has done the fox no good at all. The fox tells him otherwise and explains why. -- But for those of you who have not yet read this book, I leave the sweetly poignant details for you to discover on your own. 


Did the flower tame the boy who then tamed the fox and also the pilot? As I read this book once again, I can’t help thinking of our Peasy. Did we tame him, or did he tame us? Was the Artist in the beginning the pilot, only later on to become a fox to the little prince? Or was Peasy the rose to the Artist and me? Or was Peasy the little prince, come to earth to be with us for a while and teach us about love even as he was learning? 


I see my little Pea in the rose, deluded in thinking himself so strongly defended against the world’s dangers. I see him also in the little prince, so concerned to protect the Artist and me, his roses. 


I see our Peasy in the fox,  eager to have us tame him and create ties to bind the three of us together. How happy and grateful he was to have a home and family! And I see the Artist and myself in all these different roles and also in the role of the pilot. 


Did we “waste” a year of our life on a dog like a hundred thousand other nameless dogs needing rescue? ‘Waste’ is the English word Katherine Woods uses in her translation: 


“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes her so important.” 


The original French reads somewhat differently:


“C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.”

“The time you have lost….”

We human beings lose time every day. Whether we feel we have been “productive” or “creative” or that we have “wasted” twenty-four hours, yesterday is gone, and there is no turning back. Yet as Proust discovered in his final volume, Time Regained, the past continues with us in memory. And just as there is no love created, no relationship forged, no friendship made, without taking time for it, spending time on it, losing time for it, so too love lives on in memories forged by time.


I suppose there are some among you, reading this, who think I have spent, wasted, lost quite enough time and words dwelling on my little lost boy. The Artist and I are fortunate in having each other – for many, many reasons, but one these days is being able to talk to each other about the dog we loved and couldn’t keep. Because no one else can ever fully understand why we miss him as much as we do. Only the two of us knew “the essential” loving heart of Peasy. 


And now we are the pilot, left behind and remembering, missing him, but the world is richer for us in all the ways that call our boy to mind again and again. 

Toujours dans nos âmes


Deborah said...

Peasy will always be in your hearts and you both are far richer for having loved him and having him love you in return. And yes, I'm afraid there will always be sadness because he is no longer with you but hopefully the sadness will diminish as time marches on.

P. J. Grath said...

And Deborah, I know you loved him, too, and saw his essence, even though he bit you! Love you, sister!

Jeanie Furlan said...

The Little Prince, I have never read it and will buy it the moment I am in Brooklyn, in May we think. Your analogies between your love of Peasy and his love for you and the love in the book, are just so meaningful and lovely. The verb “perdre” in French and “perder”in Portuguese have the same meaning, and I agree that ‘have wasted’ is not quite right, and to lose, ‘have lost’ is what translates much more accurately. Was Peasy with you for just a year? He seemed so…present…and consuming, but in a good and deep way. He wanted love and you were so generous with yours, so he loved you equally right back. I believe very few people would think you wasted your time with beautiful Peasy. Deep and wide is his memory, and how good is that!

P. J. Grath said...

Ah, Jeanie! Peasy was indeed VERY present! I'm trying to think of a word.... 'Challenging' is part of it. I've never worked with a dog as consistently or thoroughly or constantly as I worked with little Pea. And being such a big part of my life, he became a feature of my blog, though he never made a public bookstore appearance.

I have a faint memory of sending you THE LITTLE PRINCE in Spanish many years ago when you were living in a Spanish-speaking country, but it's also possible that the book never made it into the mail. I was looking to see how many languages the book has been translated into, and up popped this! Just in time for your New Yorkaise portion of the year, no?

Here are some notes on the Woods translation, opening with the statement that THE LITTLE PRINCE is the most translated secular book in the world!!!

I wasn't really being overly critical, was I?

Jeanie Furlan said...

Not in the least! You are just being more precise, more particular about how you want the translation to go to the English reader. I admire you for aiming high in getting the right word….to ‘waste’ is not about loss. Thanks et Merci !

P. J. Grath said...

Pas d' quoi!

P. J. Grath said...

Jeanie and others -- here is another French-to-English quibble, not mine but I agree with it:

The argument has to do with the first line of THE STRANGER, by Albert Camus. I've written about Camus before:

He is a writer I admire deeply, not only for his writing but also for standing alone rather than choosing a knee-jerk position on questions of communism and Algeria. Very deep thinker whose ideas have been, I'm happy to say, reevaluated upward in recent years.

I also want to recommend, however, THE MERSAULT INVESTIGATION, by Kamel Daoud:
It is a more recent novel that takes off from THE STRANGER but comes at the murder from the other side. I think Camus, were he alive, would appreciate the fresh perspective. Anyway, I do. It a very important corrective in our world today, in which voices from others besides white male Westerners are being recognized in world literature at last.

P. J. Grath said...

On the subject of translations and word choices, I should note my reason for saying Peasy is “toujours dans nos âmes,” rather than “dans nos coeurs,” that is, “in our souls,” rather than “in our hearts.” There was a French pop song a while back — and I can’t recall the title — but it is about an immigrant from South America who makes his home in France and with Western pop music (!), and a line in the song goes, “Dire Straits dans mon Walkman, toujours Gardel dans mon âme." That is my point of reference.