2006-02-10

wisdom of the sands - antoine de saint-exupéry

For your equality is your undoing. You say: "Let us share this pearl amongst all. Any one of the divers might have found it."

But then the magic of the sea is lost; no longer is it a source of joy, and rife with promises to him whose stars are kind. And each man's dive is no more a ceremonial prelude to a miracle, and an adventure marvellous as a fairy tale, by reason of that black pearl another won from the depths a year ago.

Even so I would have you save, nay, stint yourself, all the year round for the sake of that one great yearly festival, whose significance lies not in its rejoicings, for these are fleeting (the festival being like a hatching-out, a victory or a royal visit); but whose purport is the sweetening of your whole year with a savor of happy expectation or of remembered joy - for only that road is beautiful which leads towards the sea. Thus the nest is prepared in expectation of the hatching-out, which is different in essence from the nest. Thus, too, you strive manfully in battle in expectation of a victory that is different in essence from the clash of arms, and you spend a twelvemonth making your house worthy of the prince's visit. Wherefore I dissuade you from levelling men out at the behest of an impracticable "justice"; for never will you make an old man equal to a youth, and your equality will always be a cumbrous makeshift. Sharing out the pearl will leave none the richer; therefore I bid you decline the paltry share that might be yours, so that the finder of the pearl may bring it home entire and with plenary delight, and when his wife questions him he will hold up his fist, saying, "Guess!" For he wants to whet her curiosity, rejoicing in advance for the happiness he has but to open his fingers to bestow.

Indeed all are the richer for his treasure-trove. For it proves that the divers' gropings on the seabed are not drudgery. Thus, too, the love songs sung by my minstrels teach you the delights of love, and the beauty they extol sheds lustre on all women. For if there is one woman in the world for whose winning a man will gladly lay down his life, she is a proof that love can be worth dying for, and, through her, all women are beautified, englamored; for may not any woman hide in her bosom, like the sea, her bright particular treasure, a peerless pearl? And then each time you draw near a woman your heart will beat faster, like the hearts of the divers in the Coral Gulf, when they wed the sea.

You are "unjust" to ordinary days when you bend your thoughts on the feast day, yet the mere prescience of high festival sweetens those common days, and you are the richer for its prospect. Injustice is done you if you do not share in your neighbor's pearl, but the pearl he lit on will beacon your gropings underseas, even as the fountain in the heart of a far-distant oasis spreads enchantment on the desert.

That justice of which you prate bids one day be like another, one man like another. True, if your wife is shrill-tongued you can put her away and take another whose voice is gentle. But my wish is to perpetuate love, since it exists only when irrevocable is the choice; for we must be limited in order to become. The pleasure of the ambush, of pursuit and capture, is different from that of love. For then your significance is that of the hunter; the woman's that of the prey you are pursuing. And so, once captured, she has served her end and means nothing to you. What does the poem when once it has been written, matter to the poet? His function is to go beyond it in a new creation. But once I have closed the door on the couple in your house, you needs must go beyond her. Your significance now is that of the husband; and the woman's her wifehood. I charge the words with their utmost weight of meaning, and when you say "my wife," there is an echo in the depths of your heart. Yet you will discover other joys; and other sufferings assuredly. But these are the condition of your joys. You are willing to die for her, since she is yours as you are hers. But you do not die for a captured prey. Your fidelity is that of a believer, not that of a wearied hunter - whose fidelity is different and sheds, not light, but boredom.

True, there are divers who never find a pearl. And men there are who never find aught but sorrow in the bed that they have chosen. But the ill hap of the unsuccessful divers is a condition of the sea's bright lure. Which holds good for all, including those whose love is ill-starred. For yearnings and regrets and grief for love's eclipse are better than the torpor of the well-fed beast to whom love means nothing. Even as when, parched with thirst in the desert, you are struggling through the briars, you prefer regret to forgetting of the wellsprings.

Herein lies an enigma which it has been given me to understand. Even as you stablish that with which you concern yourself, for or against which you fight (this is why you fight badly if it is mere hatred of your enemy's god that sends you into battle, whereas when you bravely run the risk of death it is the love of your own god spurring you on) - even so you are enlightened, nourished and ennobled by that very thing whose absence you deplore and for which you sigh and weep, quite as much as by the fruits of victory. Thus a mother within whose heart bereavement, having taken on its full meaning, has beatified itself, lives on the memory of her dead child.

If I ruin for you the true conditions of love, by ensuring that you do not suffer by it, what have you to thank me for? Is a desert without a wellspring any more acceptable to men who have lost the trail and are dying of thirst?

But if the wellspring has been lovingly hymned and tended in your heart, it will yield for you, in that fell hour when you are wedded to the sand and ready to put off your husk of mortality, the waters of that peace ineffable which comes not from things but from the meaning of things, and I shall call a smile to dying lips when I tell you of the sweetness of the melody of the wellsprings.

How, then, could you turn against me? I give you your life's meaning; with a regret I make your sand enchanted; I open to you the gates of love, and with a fragrance build a kingdom in your heart.

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