Yesterday, speaking to Lieutenant Gavoille, I had let drop the words, “Oh, we’ll see about that when the war is over.” And Gavoille had answered, “I hope you don’t mean, Captain, that you expect to come out of the war alive?”
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)
Ayer decía al teniente Gavoille:
—Ya lo veremos después de la guerra.
Y el teniente Gavoille me respondió:
—No tendrá usted, mi capitán, la pretensión de seguir viviendo después de la guerra.
There is a cheap literature that speaks to us of the need of escape. It is true that when we travel we are in search of distance. But distance is not to be found. It melts away. And escape has never led anywhere. The moment a man finds that he must play the races, go the Arctic, or make war in order to feel himself alive, that man has begun to spin the strands that bind him to other men and to the world. But what wretched strands! A civilisation that is really strong fills man to the brim, though he never stir. What are we worth when motionless, is the question.
Hay una mala literatura que nos ha hablado de la necesidad de evasión. Por supuesto, uno emprende viaje en busca de extensión; pero la extensión no se encuentra, se funda; y la evasión nunca lleva a ninguna parte.
Cuando el hombre, para sentirse hombre, tiene necesidad de correr carreras, de cantar en coro, de hacer la guerra, se impone lazos para anudarse al otro y al mundo. ¡Pero qué pobres lazos! Si una civilización es grande, colma al hombre, aunque éste permanezca inmóvil.
En este pueblecito silencioso, bajo el gris de un día de lluvia, diviso una inválida recluida que medita junto a su ventana. ¿Quién es? ¿Qué han hecho de ella? Yo juzgaría la civilización del pueblecito por la densidad de esta presencia. ¿Qué valemos, una vez inmóviles?
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras/ Piloto de guerra)
Dutertre and I sat looking out of the window. Here too was a branch swaying in the breeze. I could hear the cackle of the hens. Our Intelligence Room had been set up in a schoolhouse; the major’s office was in a farmhouse.
It would be easy to write a couple of fraudulent pages out of the contrast between this shining spring day, the ripening fruit, the chicks filling plumply out in the barnyard, the rising wheat — death at our elbow. I shall not write that couple of pages because I see no reason why the peace of a spring day should constitute a contradiction of the idea of death. Why should the sweetness of life be a matter for irony.
France is not an abstract deity. France is not a history textbook. France is not some ideology. France is the flesh that sustains me, a network of connections that rules me, a collection of axes that are the foundation of my affections. That’s why I need those to whom I’m attached to outlast me. To be oriented, I need them to exist. Otherwise, how would I know where or what to return to?
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Introduction to 33 Days)
Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas. Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection, despite its ugliness. I take it for granted that to create a tree I condemn a seed to rot. If the first act of resistance comes too late it is doomed to defeat. But it is, nevertheless, the awakening of resistance. Life may grow from it as from a seed.
He who is different from me does not impoverish me – he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves – in Man… For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass.
El que es diferente de mí no me empobrece, sino que me enriquece. Nuestra unidad se basa en algo superior a nosotros mismos, en el Hombre… Pues ningún hombre quiere escuchar su propio eco o verse reflejado en un cristal.
I had been looking on at a carnival of light. The ceiling had risen little by little and I had been unaware of an intervening space between the clouds and me. I had been zigzagging along a line of flight dotted by ground batteries. Their tracer bullets had been spraying the air with wheat-coloured shafts of light. I had forgotten that at the top of their flight the shells of those batteries must burst. And now, raising my head, I saw around and before me those rivets of smoke and steel driven into the sky in the pattern of towering pyramids.
I was quite aware that those rivets were no sooner driven than all danger went out of them, that each of those puffs possessed the power of life and death only for a fraction of a second.
For today’s quote, an excerpt from a Saint-Exupéry novel, Flight to Arras.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, most famous for his lyric children’s book The Little Prince, was a pilot by profession. Most of his novels are based in his own life experiences; Flight to Arras, set during World War II, is no exception.
An estimated 10 million people, including up to 80% of the population of Paris, fled south from the German advance to seek safety beyond the River Loire in what became known in history as l’Exode – the Exodus.
Francia, junio 1940:
Se estima que 10 millones de personas, incluido hasta el 80% de la población de París, huyeron hacia el sur del avance alemán para buscar la seguridad más allá del río Loira en lo que se conoció en la historia como l’Exode: el Éxodo.
Today’s quote is longer than usual: it’s an excerpt from Flight to Arras, a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and it captures the utter exhaustion of a squadron of French pilots during the German offensive on France in June 1940.
Like all Saint-Exupéry novels, Flight to Arras too was inspired by the author’s own experiences. Saint-Exupéry served in the French air force and continued to fight after the fall of France. He disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean Sea in 1944; his identity bracelet was finally recovered from the sea in 1998. He’s the author of such classics as The Little Prince, Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars.
Each burst of a machine gun or a rapid-fire cannon shot forth hundreds of these phosphorescent bullets that followed one another like the beads of a rosary. A thousand elastic rosaries strung themselves out towards the plane, drew themselves out to the breaking point, and burst at our height. When, missing us, the string went off at a tangent, its speed was dizzying. The bullets were transformed into lightning.
And I flew drowned in a crop of trajectories as golden as stalks of wheat. I flew at the centre of a thicket of lance strokes. I flew threatened by a vast and dizzying flutter of knitting needles. All the plain was now bound to me, woven and wound round me, a coruscating web of golden wire.
This book made it – at the last minute – on to my recent list of books that transport you, despite the fact that it’s not one of the best written books ever. In fact, the best piece of writing in it, easily, comes from the pen of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who wrote the introduction and who smuggled the book out of war-torn France for publication in America. But although Léon Werth, Saint-Exupéry’s best friend (to whom he dedicated The Little Prince) lacked his friend’s brilliance as a writer, he was an excellent observer and wrote a perfectly clear and lucid description of what it was like in those 33 days when he fled Paris with his wife from the advancing German army in June 1940.