Wisdom of the Sands
Wisdom of the Sands
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Published by University of Chicago Press/IL in 1979
Published by University of Chicago Press/IL in 1979
A Book evie! by Bobby "atherne #$%%$
A Book evie! by Bobby "atherne #$%%$
~^~When I first
When I first read this book, read this book, apparently I missed reading apparently I missed reading WWalalterter Fowlie's wonderful Introduction. Reading introductions,
Fowlie's wonderful Introduction. Reading introductions, prefaces, forewords, and acknowledgments of books is an prefaces, forewords, and acknowledgments of books is an
acquired taste, similar to eating the crust of
acquired taste, similar to eating the crust of bread slices — it'sbread slices — it's not for the young. In this passage Fowlie eplains the process of not for the young. In this passage Fowlie eplains the process of the book!
[page ix] A young chieftain,
[page ix] A young chieftain, un jeune caïd,un jeune caïd, the protagonist, isthe protagonist, is being gradually instructed by
being gradually instructed by his father, his father, who was thewho was the founder of the empire and who is in full control of the founder of the empire and who is in full control of the
inhabitants. The young caïd is taught to discern which moral inhabitants. The young caïd is taught to discern which moral and behaioral factors eleate, and w
and behaioral factors eleate, and which degrade thehich degrade the people. !e learns to recogni"e those aspects of ciili"ation people. !e learns to recogni"e those aspects of ciili"ation that strengthen the empire, and those that may cause its that strengthen the empire, and those that may cause its decline.
"traight away on page #, the father's homily to his son begins "traight away on page #, the father's homily to his son begins with the theme of $pity led
with the theme of $pity led astray.astray.$ %e talks of how he $ %e talks of how he pitiedpitied beggars and e&en sent his doctors to heal their sores. hen one beggars and e&en sent his doctors to heal their sores. hen one
day he $disco&ered that beggars cling to their stench as to something rare and precious.$
[page #] $or % had caught them scratching away their scabs and smearing their bodies with dung, li&e the husbandman who spreads manure oer his garden plot, so as to wean from it the crimson flower. 'ying with each other, they flaunted their corruption, and bragged of the alms they
wrung from the tender(hearted. !e who had wheedled most li&ened himself to a high priest bringing forth from the
shrine his goodliest idol for all to gape at and heap with
offerings. )hen they deigned to consult my physician, it was in the hope that hugeness and irulence of their can&ers
would astound him. And how nimbly they shuffled their stumps to hae room made for them in the mar&et places* Thus they too& the &indness done them for a homage,
proffering their limbs to unctions that flattered their self( esteem.
If the process of the book is homily, the theme is citadelle — the home, the fortress, the castle in which we dwell. hat $inner
courtyard$ that we build up around our sel&es, $as the cedar builds itself upon the seed.$
[page +#, +] $or % perceied that man-s estate is as a citadel he may throw down the walls to gain what he calls freedom, but then nothing of him remains sae a dismantled fortress, open to the stars. And then begins the anguish of not(being. $ar better for him were it to achiee his truth in the homely smell of bla"ing ine shoots, or of the sheep he has to shear. Truth stri&es deep, li&e a well. A ga"e that wanders loses sight of /od. And that wise man who, &eeping his thoughts
in hand, &nows little more than the weight of his floc&-s wool has a clearer ision of /od than [anyone]. 0itadel, % will
build you in men-s hearts.
[page +1] $or % hae lit on a great truth to wit, that all men dwell, and life-s meaning changes for them with the meaning of the home.
(nd now we come upon the theme within the theme! the
meaning of things. (ntoine de "aint)*up+ry wrote this entire book about the meaning of things. his theme is like sand
flowing through the hourglass of this wonderful book — the sand of the hourglass has no meaning in itself, the meaning in us, what meaning we make of the flowing sand. his re&iew of Citadelle gi&es me a chance to place my hand into the hourglass of time and allow me to share with you, dear Reader, some
grains of sand that flow through my fingers.
In the story of his father's house, the process of homily, the
citadel in which men dwell, and the meaning of things all come together with a flourish. he son is led to understand his father's house as he contemplates its destruction. he son comes to see the &alue, the meaning, of his father's house, whose walls were the constraints his father had shaped for the son to come to know himself. hose walls, which after his father's death, were
doomed — when some dolt came and questioned the meaning of things.
[page +2] That is why % hate irony, which is not a man-s weapon, but the dolt-s. $or the dolt says to us 3These practices of yours do not obtain elsewhere. 4o why not
you always to house your harest in the barn and the cattle in the shed53 6ut it is he who is the dupe of words, for he &nows not that something which words cannot comprehend. !e &nows not that men dwell in a house.
(s the story unfolds, one cannot help but remember the -/s when so many questions were asked about our culture, when so many young people demonstrated against old traditions, and when so many beautiful structures were laid in ruins to be replaced by concrete parking lots and the ilk.
[page +2, +7] And then his ictims, now that the house has lost its meaning for them, fall to dismantling it. Thus men destroy their best possession, the meaning of things on feast days they pride themseles on standing out against old
custom, and betraying their traditions, and toasting their enemy. True, they may feel some 8ualms as they go about their deeds of sacrilege. 4o long as there is sacrilege. 4o long as there still is something against which they reolt. Thus for a while they continue trading on the fact that their foe still breathes, and the ghostly presence of the laws still hampers them enough for them to feel li&e outlaws. 6ut presently the ery ghost dissoles into thin air, and the rapture of reolt is gone, een the "est of ictory forgotten. And now they yawn. [page +7] 9n the ruins of the palace they hae laid out a
public s8uare: but once the pleasure of trampling its stones with upstart arrogance has lost its "est, they being to wonder what they are doing here, on this noisy fairground. And now, lo and behold, they fall to picturing, dimly as yet, a great
house with a thousand doors, with curtains that billow on your shoulders and slumbrous anterooms. ;erchance they
dream een of a secret room, whose secrecy perades the whole ast dwelling. Thus, though they &now it not, they are pining for my father-s palace where eery footstep had a
(nd where in that palace is this meaning to be found0 "urely not in the bricks, the stones, the tiles that comprise the palace,
because if the owner were to dismantle the palace into a pile of brick and stones, $he would not be
able to disco&er therein the silence, the shadows and the pri&acy they bestowed.$ 1ut rather it is in the heart and soul of the
architect who dreamed of and built the palace. his is the author's song to the human spirit.
[page <+] %, the architect: %, who hae a heart and soul: %, who wield the power of transforming stone into silence. % step in and mold that clay, which is the raw material, into the li&eness of the creatie ision that comes to me from /od: and not through any faculty of reason. Thus, ta&en solely by the saor it will hae, % build my ciili"ation: as poets build their poems, bending phases to their will and changing words, without being called upon to =ustify the phrasing of the changes, but ta&en solely by the saor these will hae, ouched for by their hearts.
he book theme has mo&ed from the citadel, to the meaning of things, to the $I$ or human spirit that infuses the world with its ali&eness and creati&ity. 2ne cannot speak of such things
speak of such things unless one writes as eloquently as (ntoine de "aint)*up+ry.
%e speaks of how the breast beam of one's ship groans when the storm tosses one's ship about and how the *arth itself groans when an earthquake tosses one's house about! $2nly behold today how that which should be silent is gi&ing tongue.$ (nd when the *arth begins to speak, what is it that men are fearful for0
[page <>] )e trembled, not so much fearing for ourseles as for all the things we had labored to perfect, things for which we had been bartering ourseles lifelong. As for me, % was a carer of metal, and % feared for the great siler ewer on which % had toiled for years: for whose perfection % had
bartered two years of sleepless nights. Another feared for the deep(piled carpets he had re=oiced to weae. ?ery day he unfurled them in the sun: he was proud of haing bartered somewhat of his gnarled flesh for that rich flood of color, deep and dierse as the waes of the sea. Another feared for the olie trees he had planted. 6ut, 4ire, % ma&e bold to say, not one of us feared death: we all feared for our foolish little things. )e were discoering that life has a meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.
Thus the death of the gardener does no harm to the tree: but if you threaten the tree the gardener dies twice.
If we follow his line of thought we must come to the conclusion that whate&er one spends one's life doing, whate&er one barters one's life for is important in itself for that &ery reason! it is an in&estment into which we ha&e poured our most precious asset, our hours.
[page #@] 4o it is with the ob=ect of the barter: and the fool who thin&s fit to blame that old woman for her embroidery on the pretext that she might hae wrought something
else out of his own mouth he is conicted of preferring nothingness to creation.
For (ntoine de "aint)*up+ry there is only lo&e for the
craftsman and disdain for those who surround themsel&es only with luuries bought from merchants, those who gi&e nothing of themsel&es to life.
[page #@] Bo loe hae % for the sluggards, the sedentaries of the heart: for those who barter nothing of themseles
become nothing. Cife will not hae sered to ripen them. $or them Time flows li&e a handful of sand and wears them
(s my own parents aged, they were ne&er sedentary3 always their hands were full of something to do. For my mother it was knitting booties, sewing quilts, making pine needle baskets, crocheting centerpieces, or painting the duck decoys my dad car&ed. For my dad, when he wasn't car&ing his decoys of
upelo 4um wood, he was car&ing up the ground to plant okra, potatoes, corn, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I
thought of my dad poring o&er his wood burning tool for hours as he etched the feathers into the bare wood of his otherwise finished decoy when I read this passage from this book!
[page ##] % saw, too, my one(legged cobbler busy threading gold into his leathern slippers and, wea& as was his oice, % guessed that he was singing. 3)hat is it, cobbler, that ma&es you so happy53 6ut % heeded not the answer: for % &new that
he would answer me amiss and prattle of money he had
earned, or his meal, or the bed awaiting him &nowing not that his happiness came from his transfiguring himself into golden slippers. . .
(s I read further into this book, I became the caïd , the young chieftain being instructed by the older chieftain "aint)*up+ry and his words burned into me like the feathers burning to life under my own father's wood)burning tool. With each page I turned, another fiery thought was burned into me.
[page 1<] %f you wish them to be brothers, hae them build a tower. 6ut if you would hae them hate each other, throw them corn.
[page D@] )hat you do, you stablish: and that is all. %f when progressing towards a certain goal, you ma&e(beliee to
moe towards another, only he who is tool of words will thin& you cleer. )e do not deceie the tree: it grows as we train it to grow and all else is words that weae the wind. [page D#] -Tis the art of reasoning that leads men to ma&e mista&es.
[page D7] Then your temple will draw them to it li&e a
magnet and in its silence they will search their souls and find themseles*
[page 7D] That alone is useful which resists you.
[page 72] . . . the liing tree clutches the earth and molds it into flowers.
"ome of the lessons the great chieftain ga&e to his son was about his generals and his police. hese I found most instructi&e and would like to share them with you. First the generals of his army!
[page 7@] Thus % made answer to my generals when they came and tal&ed to me of 39rder,3 but confused the order wherein power is immanent with the layout of museums. . . . my generals hold that those things only are in order which hae ceased to differ from each other. Eid % let them hae their way, they would 3improe3 those holy boo&s which reeal an order bodying forth /od-s wisdom, by imposing order on the letters, as to which the merest child can see they are mingled with a purpose. Fy generals would put all the A-s together, all the 6-s and so forth: and thus they would hae a well(marshalled boo&: a boo& to the taste of generals.
5ears ago I disco&ered that when one holds a question
unanswered in one's mind for a time, sooner or later the answer rises into consciousness as if it had been there all the time and needed time for it to arri&e. (nswering such a question
immediately with one's conscious mind substitutes a pale
simulacrum for the true answer that else arri&e later. I epressed this idea in 6atherne's Rule 789 which says, $What is the power of an unanswered question0$ In this net passage I disco&ered the power of unasking a question or disco&ering that a question was essentially a meaningless question and not worthy of asking in the first place.
[page +<7] $or it has been brought home to me that man-s 3progress3 is but a gradual discoery that his 8uestions hae no meaning. Thus when % consult my learned men, far from
haing found answers to last year-s 8uestions, lo, % see them smiling contentedly to themseles because the truth has
come to them as the annulment of a 8uestion, not its answer.
We ha&e all argued our positions with others and ha&e usually found no resolution in the argument, only bad feelings on both parts, up until now. he author offers us this worthy ad&ice.
[page +#>] Thus % would hae you refrain from wranglings which lead nowhere. )hen others re=ect your truths on
the strength of facts aerred by them, remind yourself that you, too, on the strength of facts aerred by you, re=ect their truths, when you fall to wrangling with them. Gather, accept them. Ta&e them by the hand and guide them. 4ay, 3Hou are right, yet let us climb the mountain together.3 Then you
maintain order in the world and they will draw deep breaths of eager air, loo&ing down on the plain which they, too, hae con8uered.
[page +1<] 0onfuse not loe with the raptures of possession, which bring the cruellest of sufferings. $or, notwithstanding the general opinion, loe does not cause suffering what
causes it is the sense of ownership, which is loe-s opposite. [page +1] Then ta&e today as it is gien you, and chafe not against the irreparable. 3%rreparable3 indeed means
nothing: it is but the epithet of all that is bygone. And since no goal is eer attained, no cycle eer completed, no epoch eer ended Isae for the historian, who inents these
diisions for your conenienceJ, how dare you affirm that any steps you hae ta&en which hae not yet reached, and neer will reach, their consummation, are to be regretted5
$or the meaning of things lies not in goods that hae been amassed and stored away which the sedentaries consume but in the heat and stress of transformation, of pressing
forward, and of yearnings unassuaged.
[page +>+] $or you can only gie what you transform, as the tree gies the fruits of the earth which it has transformed. The dancer gies the dance into which she has transformed her wal&ing steps.
he last story is about the chieftain's police officers, who $in their lush stupidity$ ha&e confronted him and insisted that they ha&e disco&ered a sect responsible for the downfall of the
empire. "o the chieftain asked them, $(nd how do you know that these men are working in concert0$
[page ##@] Then they told me of certain signs they had
noticed, showing that these men formed a secret society, and of certain coincidences in the things they did, een naming the place where they held their meetings.
When the chieftain asked how this secret society was a danger to the empire, they told him of their crimes, rapes, ignobility, and their repellant appearance. he chieftain did not dispute their claim of a dangerous secret society, instead he followed the ad&ice gi&en abo&e in the quotation from page # and in&ited them to climb the mountain together.
[page ##+] 3)ell,3 % said, 3% &now a secret society that is still more dangerous, for no one has eer thought of fighting
And now they were agog with eagerness: for the police
officer, being born to use his fists, wilts if there be none on whom to ply them.
3The secret society,3 % answered, 3of those men who hae a mole on the left temple.3
(s his policemen protested that they had seen no signs of such meetings, the chieftain claimed that made them all the more
dangerous. 1ut as soon as he will denounce them in public, they will be seen banding together. hen a former carpenter coughed and spoke up saying he knew a man who had a mole on his left temple who was $honest, gentle, open)hearted$ and was
wounded defending the empire. he chieftain said they should waste no time on eceptions.
[page ##<] 9nce all the men who bear that mar& hae been traced out, loo& into their past. Hou will find they hae been concerned in all manner of crimes from rapes and
&idnappings to embe""lement and treason, and public acts of indecency not to mention their minor ices such as
gluttony. Eare you tell me they are innocent of such things53
he policemen shook their fists in anger and cried, $:o, no;$ 1ut the carpenter spoke up and questioned what if one's father, brother or kin had a mole on the left temple. he chieftain's
anger rose once more.
[page ##<] 3Fore dangerous still is the -sect- of those who hae a mole on the right temple. And, in our innocense, we neer gae them a thought* )hich means they hide
-sect- of those who hae no mole on their faces, for clearly such men disguise themseles, li&e foul conspirators, so as to do their eil wor& unnoticed. 4o, when all is said and done, % can but condemn the whole human race since there is no denying that it is the source of all manner of crimes: rapes and &idnappings, embe""lement and treason and public acts of indecency. And inasmuch as my police officers, besides being police officers, are men, % will begin my purge with
them, since -purges- of this sort are their function. Therefore % order the policeman who is in each of you to lay hold of the man who is in each of you, and fling him into the most
noisome dugeon of my citadel.3
(s the policemen were going out, the chieftain asked the
carpenter to stay and dismissed him from his police, saying that $the carpenter's truth . . . is no truth for police officers.$
[page ###] 3%f the code sets a blac& mar& against those who hae a mole on the bac& of the nec&, it is my pleasure that my police officers, at the mere mention of such a man, feel their fists clenching. And it is li&ewise my pleasure that your sergeant ma=or weighs your merits by your s&ill in doing an about turn. $or had he the right to =udge for himself he
might condone your aw&wardness because you are a great poet. And li&ewise forgie the man beside you, because he is a paragon of irtue. And li&ewise with the man next after him, because he is a model of chastity. Thus =ustice would preail. 6ut now suppose that, on the battlefield, a swift and subtle feint, hinging on an about turn, is called for, then you will see my troops blundering into each other, hugger(
them out* And much consolation will it be to the dying that their sergeant ma=or thin&s well of them* Therefore % send you bac& to your boards and plan&s, lest your loe of =ustice, operating where it is misplaced, lead one day to a useless
shedding of blood.3
In a nutshell, in the police or the army you gotta ha&e men about you that are good at doing about faces.
We ha&e learned in this booklong homily about pitying a beggar, about tearing down a palace, about how places ha&e meaning, and about the meaning of things. hese things we learned as the sands of wisdom poured through the hourglass of this book.
When the last grain of sand flowed past the neck of the
hourglass, the chieftain closed his homily to his son thus! $his morning I ha&e pruned my rose trees.$