Reminder message from a little prince
By Frances LambertsVisiting the Carl Sandburg national historic site recently, on the poet’s desk in the library I glimpsed a small but renowned book.
The Little Prince was penned (and illustrated) 70 years ago in New York City during the last three summer months of 1942, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
The acclaimed author, aviation pioneer and French air force officer came to America at the beginning of WWII after France signed an armistice with the German Nazi government.
Rejoining the war with an American military convoy in 1943 and fighting with the allies in the Mediterranean campaign, he was later lost in a reconnaissance flight in 1944.
Ostensibly written for children, the book is a touching fable relating, in his own words, the journey to Earth of a “most extraordinary small person.”
As he reveals some experiences from his voyage, and details of life on his own planet, the little prince complains about “grown-ups.”
These, he finds, often have moral weaknesses and infatuations that make them insensitive to real priorities and “matters of consequence.”
For the little prince, wisdom lies in friendship and caring relationships, both between people and in care for the living world about them.
Of the heavenly bodies he has seen on his journey, one is inhabited by a king interested only in power and authority over others.
On another, a businessman spends the time counting his millions, the riches that can buy more of what he wants or be “put in the bank.”
All the people the little prince has met lack interest and understanding, wise judgment and caring for what, in his mind, are crucial “matters of consequence” on small, fragile, crowded planets.
Important for him are the enjoyment of sunsets and nature’s grandeur, and vigilant attention to health of the planetary home.
On his planet, craters must be swept clean to avert volcanic eruptions. A rose must be protected to allow it to “become acquainted with the butterflies.”
To avoid them breaking the planet apart, “terrible seeds” coming from elsewhere must be pulled up in timely fashion, before it is too late.
Looking after his little planet is the most important responsibility of all.
“When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning,” he says, “then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care.”
If dangers are neglected, it can mean a catastrophe.
He had known a planet once, he tells, that was “inhabited by a lazy man.”
Since he neglected to uproot three little baobab bushes, things didn’t go well for him and his planet.
The Little Prince, translated into over 250 languages and dialects and surpassing 200 million in circulation, reportedly ranks among the most famous books of all time.
Seventy years later, as planet Earth faces profound crises of pollution, changing climate, overcrowding and rapid species loss, its message may yet be seen as a summons to us all, and to our country’s leaders.