The Book Meme Challenge: A book that makes you sad.
In some ways it seems very dubious biology, but somehow or other my mother passed on the trait of easily-provoked weeping on to me. We cry at things that are sad, or beautiful, or painful, occasionally at that which is confusing, and most certainly at the sappily sentimental.
Because of this, I often shed tears over books for reasons unrelated to sadness. That which is beautiful tends to provoke that piercing feeling of longing – sehnsucht, which Lewis described as “the inconsolable longing for we know not what.” And rather a lot of things draw up such longing, as from a well, and tears with it. The aforementioned series-es I love? Tears. Tolkien’s work? Tears. Various bits of Berry, or Sayers, or Chesterton? There comes no noise but weeping out of the ancient sky, and a tear is in the tiniest flower because the gods must die.
But today’s book, while it is terribly beautiful, provokes not sehnsucht but saudade – a deep longing for what was loved and lost, with the knowledge that the loved and longed-for might never return.
I write of Le Petit Prince of Antonie de Saint-Exupery. It describes very well how grown-ups, if they let themselves, come to misunderstand what matters are “of consequence;” it haunts me with beautiful words about love. But even in the midst of describing the love between the prince and his flower, his fox, and the narrator, sorrow seeps out the cracks because there comes a day to say farewell.
“Are you looking for chickens?”
“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“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…”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”
“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the 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 corner 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…”
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 color of the wheat fields.”
“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.
At sunrise the sand is the color of honey. And that honey color was making me happy, too. What brought me, then, this sense of grief?
He was afraid, there was no doubt about that. But he laughed lightly.
“I shall be much more afraid this evening…”
Once again I felt myself frozen by the sense of something irreparable. And I knew that I could not bear the thought of never hearing that laughter any more. For me, it was like a spring of fresh water in the desert.
One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed…