The Little Prince: Connecting the Invisible Essential, Songs of Innocence and Experience, Imagination, the Tao-Te-Ching, and Art

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“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
– The Fox from The Little Prince

The Little Prince is a very small book [much like the prince is a small being], which holds massive truths. I readily identify with the book because of my research into and writing about William Blake, author and illustrator of Songs of Innocence and Experience. Blake’s work centered around advocating that adults return to the states of purity and true vision that is typical of children. This philosophy was common during the Romantic period of English literature. Generally speaking, the Romantic period of literature was during the 18th century, and William Blake is considered to be one of the earliest of Romanticists.

The Little Prince was written by Antoine de Saint Exupery, and the bulk of the narrative takes place in a desert. I believe that the desert symbolizes a dusty, thirsty Waste Land that the author himself is experiencing and/or the generalized, dry and parched soul of humanity–i.e. TS Eliot‘s Waste Land, which was written at about the same time as The Little Prince. Early in the book, the prince begins talking about his one, special rose, whom he had left on his home asteroid.

 

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The rose had blown into and had planted itself upon the little prince’s planet. At first, the prince had thought that this unremarkable sprig was a baobab, which was what he called a common weed. As the rose began to mature toward flowering, however, the prince was able to recognize the unique way that she had begun to emerge.

“But the shrub [baobab] soon stopped growing, and began to get ready to produce a flower. The little prince, who was present at the first appearance of a huge bud, felt at once that some sort of miraculous apparition must emerge from it. . . .[the flower] chose her colors with the greatest of care. She dressed herself slowly. She adjusted her petals one by one. She did not wish to go out into the world all rumpled, like the field poppies.” – Le-Petit-Prince

The rose began to tell the prince about her thorns:

“One day, for instance, when she was speaking of her four thorns, she said to the little prince:

‘Let the tigers come with their claws!’

In mentioning the tigers, it would seem that Atoine de Saint Eupery might be alluding to Blake’s “Tyger” his Songs of Experience.

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The Tyger
BY WILLIAM BLAKE

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Essentially, Blake’s Experience state [the Tyger state] is the state of insensitivity and detachment that Blake considered to be characteristic of adults.

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The Tyger is described as fearful, with dread hands and feet. He is a terrorizing creature. The Lamb, on the other hand, is of the Innocence state, Blakes asks of the Tyger:

“Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

While Blake associated Innocence with children, he associated Experience with adults.

In The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery also makes negative reference to adults, noting how they are destroying the planet. William Blake considered Innocence to be sublime because Innocence had not been hardened by life’s blows. Blake’s entire body of works develops this theme, and in his later works, Blake describes a type of heaven that is inhabited by the people who have maintained their innocence, imagination, and freshness of spirit. He presents a fictionalized Christ-like figure, who is the embodiment of pure imagination. That figure is named Los. Los was trying to save mankind from the devastation of their own hardened states, which was caused by their losses of imagination. Needless to say, Blake was committed to the idea that the dry, shriveled, empty adult was the ruination of society.

Blake’s later works are very difficult to read. The Little Prince, however, is very easy to read, and it basically has the same message as that of Blake.

‘I am not at all afraid of tigers,’ the rose continued, ‘but I have a horror of drafts.’ [Probably referring to insensitivity and coldness in people] . . . .

‘At night I want you to put me under a glass globe. It is very cold where you live.’ (pgs. 30-31)

The little prince says: ’One never ought to listen to the flowers. One should simply look at them and breathe their fragrance.’

The Nameless

In The Little Prince’s advocacy of silent appreciation, it would seem that St. Exupery is alluding to what the Tao-Te-Ching called the Nameless, which I believe is the essence of an understanding that runs deeper than mere words.

Words are symbols. They are groups of letters that can only approximate. For instance, consider the letters d-o-o-r [That spells the word “door.”] What does that word tell us?–not much! What visual image springs to mind when you simply hear the word “door?”–when you hear nothing but that one simple word. What emotional feelings do you have about that one word “door?” Granted, the person who was hit by a swinging door that broke his nose and consequently caused that same person to back into the person behind him who then fell down a flight of steps, which consequently caused the first door-hit person to be sued, may have slightly stronger feelings and visual images conjured by the word “door” than most of us. Yet, for most of us, that word is fairly bland.

The word “church” might carry a bit more meaning for most of us, but it is still a fairly non-specific word. If a writer adds other illustrative descriptors to the word “church,” the listener might form a clearer picture of a more specific church, but the simple word “church” too general and non-specific. Words also have a tendency to become symbols. For instance, the peace sign is a visual symbol for peace and a heart might be a visual symbol for love, but neither the peace sign or a drawing of a heart stirs emotion within me.

Symbols are like chit-chat, and whether they are empty words or empty drawings, they lack soul. The Nameless, on the other hand, is within the soul.

Dr. Ashok Bedi talks about the limitations of words:

“Language and speech, among the higher achievements of evolution, not only express, but also limit, consciousness. Because our intuitive images come from the deepest source of Being, language often cannot translate them into any known concept. When we become too earthbound by conditioned consciousness and by the use of language for self-expression and communication with others, we limit what we can experience and perceive to the bounds set by the spoken word. So, when we maintain total silence for a period of time, we temporarily abandon language and free ourselves to explore the territory of our inner and outer worlds, unfettered by linguistic maps. . . .We then have the opportunity to perceive inner images and riches, because we are not trying to force them to fit the Procrustean bed of our vocabulary.” – Ashok Bedi, MD, Path to the Soul

In talking about what he had lost when he left his rose behind on his other planet, the little prince reflected upon the limitations of words:

” ‘ The fact is that I did not know how to understand anything. I ought to have judged by deeds and not by words. She cast her radiance over me. I ought never to have run away from her. . . I ought to have guessed all the affection that lay behind her poor little stratagems. Flowers are so inconsistent! But I was too young to know how to love her. . . .’ ” (pgs 31-32)

In the previous passage, I do not believe that the little prince is referring to a chronological youth–nor to Blake’s Innocence. I believe that he is referring to the type of spiritual youth that is also mentioned in the Bible:

“In fact, though by now you should be teachers, you still need someone to teach you the basic truths of God’s word. You have become people who need milk instead of solid food.” Hebrews 5:12 International Standard Version

As Mark Twain said: “Words are only painted fire….” An actual fire has actual heat that actually burns, but words merely allude to that fire. The Nameless is  an understanding that is beyond the scope of mere words.  It is the Essential:

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

We might add that it is also unhearable to the ear [Nameless].

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” – Albert Einstein

Invisible

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