THE LITTLE PRINCE
- I -
Once, when I was six years old, I saw a magnificent picture in a book called "True Stories", about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing a wild beast. 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 colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My drawing number 1. It looked like this:
I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them
whether the drawing frightened them.
They answered me: "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. Then, 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 2 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 1 and my drawing number 2. 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 airplanes. 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. Such knowledge is useful, if one gets lost in the night.
I have had, in the course of my life, many encounters with 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 1, 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.
- II -
So I lived my life alone, without anyone that I could really talk to, until I had an accident in the desert of Sahara, six years ago. Something was broken in my motor. And as I had with me neither a mechanic nor any passengers, I set myself to attempt, all alone, the difficult repairs. 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 surprise, 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, if I had been thunderstricked. I blinked my eyes hard. I looked carefully. And I saw a most extraordinary small person, who was examining me with great seriousness. Here you may see the best potrait that, later, I was able to make of him.
But my drawing is certainly very much less charming than the 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 then 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 a fountain-pen. But I remembered then I have studied above all 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 as I had never drawn a sheep, I drew for him one of the two pictures I had 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! I don't 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 indulgenty:
- You see yourself... 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 previous:
- 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 motor apart, so I tossed off this drawing:
And I threw out an explanation with it:
- This is the 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?
- Because where I live everything is very small...
- There will surely be enough grass for him, I said. I have given you a very small sheep.
He bent his head over the drawing:
- Not so small that... Look! He has gone to sleep...
And that is how I made the acquaintance of the little prince.
- III -
It took me a long time to understand 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.
So, the first time he saw my airplane (I shall not draw my airplane, it's a drawing too much complicated for me), he asked me:
- What is that thing?
- That is not a thing. It flies. It is an airplane. It is my airplane.
And I was proud to have him learn that I could fly. Then he cried out :
- 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 come from the sky too! Which is your planet?
At that moment I caught a gleam of light in the mystery of his presence, and I questioned, abruptly:
- Do you come from another planet?
But he did not reply. He tossed his head gently, looking at my plane:
- It is true that, on that, you can't have come from very far away..."
And he sank into a musing, 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 endeavoured, therefore, to find out more on this subject.
- Where do you come from, my little boy? What is the site where you live? Where do you want to take my sheep?
After a reflective silence, he answered:
- That is so good about the box you have given me is that, at night, he can use it as his house.
- Sure. And if you are gentle, I will give you a string, too, so that you can tie him during the day. And a post.
But the little prince seemed shocked by this offer:
- Tie him? What a queer idea!
- But, if you don't tie him, 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 melancholy, he added:
- Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far...
- IV -
I had thus learned a second fact of great importance:
this was that his planet was scarcely any larger than a house!
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 3251."
I have serious reason to believe that the planet from which the little prince came is the asteroid B 612.
This asteroid has been seen only once through the telescope,
in 1909, by a Turkish astronomer
He had presented it in a great demonstration to the International Astronomical Congress. But nobody would believe what he said because he was in turkish costume.
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. The astronomer gave his demonstration all over again in 1920, dressed with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report.
If I have told you these details about the asteroid B 612 and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. Grown-ups loves numbers. When you tell them about 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 prefer? Does he collec 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?" Then they think that 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 to say to them: "I saw a house that cost $100,000". Then they would exclaim: "Oh, what a pretty house!"
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", they would shrug their shoulders, and treat you like a child. But if you said to them: "The planet he came from is the 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, numbers are a matter of indifference. I should have liked to begin this story in the fasion of the fairy-tales. I should have like 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 needed a friend..."
To those who understand life, that would have given a greatest air of truth.
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 I may become like the grown-ups who are no longer interested in anything but numbers...
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 inside, since I was six! I shall certainly try to make 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 color 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 sheeps through the walls of boxes. Perhaps I am a little like the grown-ups. I have had to grow old.