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Saint-Exupery, Antoine de

Category: Explorer or adventurer

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born in 1900 and was educated at a Jesuit college at Le Mans, and at the college of Saint Jean in Fribourg. In 1921, he entered the  French Air Force, qualified as a pilot, and flew in Morocco and France until his demobilisation in 1923.  He returned to North Africa as a member of the Air Mail Service, and there wrote Courrier Sud, published in 1929.  After acting as a director of the Argentine Air Mail Service, he returned to Paris in 1931 and published Vol de nuit, which established his literary reputation.   So far so good, but this somewhat dry explanation [from his books] scarcely covers how exciting and adventurous his life was.  Let me take as an example his description of one of his fellow pilots

Wind, Sand and Stars
Mermoz and his mechanic had been forced down at an altitude of twelve thousand feet on a tableland at whose edges the mountain dropped sheer on all sides. For two mortal days they hunted a way off this plateau. But they were trapped.  Everywhere the same sheer drop. And so they played their last card.  Themselves still in it, they sent the plane rolling and bouncing down an incline over the rocky ground until it reached the precipice, went off into air, and dropped. In falling, the plane picked up enough speed to respond to the controls. Mermoz was able to tilt its nose in the direction of a peak, sweep over the peak, and, while the water spurted through all the pipes burst by the night frost, the ship already disabled after only seven minutes of flight, he saw beneath him like a promised land the Chilean plain.
And the next day he was at it again.

The observations I have for him principally come from his desert adventures, when he was forced to land or crashed.  Whilst trying to break the record from Paris to Saigon, he crashed in the African desert and nearly died of thirst. The story of how he was rescued by an Arab is told in Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939).  It is from this book I have obtained quotes of his experiences.

The observations are a complex mixture of vision and hallucination,  however, this alone does not describe the change that took place as a result of his experiences in the desert, when he was very close to dying.  As a consequence of this, he became a deeply spiritual man, capable of writing books that are a form of poetry turned to prose.  If one can have wisdom, philosophical thought and poetry blended into books, Antoine de saint Exupery has achieved it.  And he achieved it to perfection in le Petit Prince – a story that can be read superficially by adults and understood at the correct level by children.  Let me give you some examples....

Wind, Sand and Stars
There is an ancient myth about the image asleep in the block of marble until it is carefully disengaged by the sculptor. The sculptor must himself feel that he is not so much inventing or shaping the curve of breast or shoulder as delivering the image from its prison.  In this spirit do engineers, physicists concerned with thermodynamics, and the swarm of preoccupied draughtsmen tackle their work.
In appearance, but only in appearance, they seem to be polishing surfaces and refining away angles, easing this joint or stabilizing that wing, rendering these parts invisible so that in the end there is no longer a wing hooked to a framework but a form flawless in its perfection, completely disengaged from its matrix, a sort of spontaneous whole, its parts mysteriously fused together and resembling in their unity a poem.

And

Wind, Sand and Stars
One man in misery can disrupt the peace of a city.  It  is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth.  Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.

And

Wind, Sand and Stars
Newton did not 'discover' a law that lay hidden from man like the answer to a rebus. He accomplished a creative operation.  He founded a human speech which could express at one and the same time the fall of an apple and the rising of the sun.  Truth is not that which is demonstrable, but that which is ineluctable.

And

The Wisdom of sands
Love does not cause suffering, what causes it is the sense of ownership, which is love’s opposite.

During the Second World War he was a pilot and then fled to America when France fell. While there he wrote Pilote de guerre, Lettre d’un otage, and Le Petit Prince.  He returned to North Africa in 1943 and flew as a reconnaissance pilot for the American forces. On one of these flights he disappeared, probably having been shot down by a German fighter.

His book Flight to Arras is  also classified now as ‘a Modern Classic’.

“Below the sea of clouds lies eternity”

References

Le Petit Prince on youtube with subtitles

Observations

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