Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quotes

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Birthdate: 29. June 1900
Date of death: 31. July 1944

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry was a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of several of France's highest literary awards and also won the U.S. National Book Award. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince and for his lyrical aviation writings, including Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight.

Saint-Exupéry was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. At the outbreak of war, he joined the French Air Force , flying reconnaissance missions until France's armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised from the French Air Force, he travelled to the United States to help persuade its government to enter the war against Nazi Germany. Following a 27-month hiatus in North America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, he joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa, although he was far past the maximum age for such pilots and in declining health. He disappeared over the Mediterranean on a reconnaissance mission in July 1944, and is believed to have died at that time.

Prior to the war, Saint-Exupéry had achieved fame in France as an aviator. His literary works – among them The Little Prince, translated into 300 languages and dialects – posthumously boosted his stature to national hero status in France. He earned further widespread recognition with international translations of his other works. His 1939 philosophical memoir Terre des hommes—Man and His World became the name of an international humanitarian group, and was also used to create the central theme of the most successful world's fair of the 20th century, Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Works

The Little Prince
The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Flight to Arras
Flight to Arras
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

„I had a vision of the face of destiny.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: I had a vision of the face of destiny.
Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.

„Have you looked at a modern airplane? Have you followed from year to year the evolution of its lines?“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ch III : The Tool
Variant translation of: <span id="perfection"></span>Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.
Ch. III: L'Avion <!-- p. 60 -->
It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.
Terre des Hommes (1939)
Context: Have you looked at a modern airplane? Have you followed from year to year the evolution of its lines? Have you ever thought, not only about the airplane but about whatever man builds, that all of man's industrial efforts, all his computations and calculations, all the nights spent over working draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose sole and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?
It is as if there were a natural law which ordained that to achieve this end, to refine the curve of a piece of furniture, or a ship's keel, or the fuselage of an airplane, until gradually it partakes of the elementary purity of the curve of a human breast or shoulder, there must be the experimentation of several generations of craftsmen. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.

„Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, book The Little Prince

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Variant translations: Here is my secret. It is very simple: one sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes.
The essential things in life are seen not with the eyes, but with the heart.
Le Petit Prince (1943)

„This viscous whiteness became in my mind the frontier between the real and the unreal, between the known and the unknowable. Already I was beginning to realize that a spectacle has no meaning except it be seen through the glass of a culture, a civilization, a craft.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: "Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well, it is very dashing, but—"
And I was struck by the graphic image:
"But you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity."
And suddenly that tranquil cloud-world, that world so harmless and simple that one sees below on rising out of the clouds, took on in my eyes a new quality. That peaceful world became a pitfall. I imagined the immense white pitfall spread beneath me. Below it reigned not what one might think — not the agitation of men, not the living tumult and bustle of cities, but a silence even more absolute than in the clouds, a peace even more final. This viscous whiteness became in my mind the frontier between the real and the unreal, between the known and the unknowable. Already I was beginning to realize that a spectacle has no meaning except it be seen through the glass of a culture, a civilization, a craft. Mountaineers too know the sea of clouds, yet it does not seem to them the fabulous curtain it is to me.

„It seems to me that those who complain of man's progress confuse ends with means.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ch III : The Tool
Terre des Hommes (1939)
Context: Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures — in this century, as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together. Do our dreamers hold that the invention of writing, of printing, of the sailing ship, degraded the human spirit?
It seems to me that those who complain of man's progress confuse ends with means. True, that man who struggles in the unique hope of material gain will harvest nothing worth while. But how can anyone conceive that the machine is an end? It is a tool. As much a tool as is the plough. The microscope is a tool. What disservice do we do the life of the spirit when we analyze the universe through a tool created by the science of optics, or seek to bring together those who love one another and are parted in space?

„No man can draw a free breath who does not share with other men a common and disinterested ideal. Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. IX Barcelona and Madrid (1936)<!-- * L’expérience nous montre qu’aimer ce n’est point nous regarder l’un l’autre mais regarder ensemble dans la même direction. /** Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.-->
Context: No man can draw a free breath who does not share with other men a common and disinterested ideal. Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through union in the same high effort. Even in our age of material well-being this must be so, else how should we explain the happiness we feel in sharing our last crust with others in the desert? No sociologist's textbook can prevail against this fact. Every pilot who has flown to the rescue of a comrade in distress knows that all joys are vain in comparison with this one. And this, it may be, is the reason why the world today is tumbling about our ears. It is precisely because this sort of fulfilment is promised each of us by his religion, that men are inflamed today. All of us, in words that contradict each other, express at bottom the same exalted impulse. What sets us against one another is not our aims — they all come to the same thing — but our methods, which are the fruit of our varied reasoning.
Let us, then, refrain from astonishment at what men do. One man finds that his essential manhood comes alive at the sight of self-sacrifice, cooperative effort, a rigorous vision of justice, manifested in an anarchist's cellar in Barcelona. For that man there will henceforth be but one truth — the truth of the anarchists. Another, having once mounted guard over a flock of terrified little nuns kneeling in a Spanish nunnery, will thereafter know a different truth — that it is sweet to die for the Church. If, when Mermoz plunged into the Chilean Andes with victory in his heart, you had protested to him that no merchant's letter could possibly be worth risking one's life for, Mermoz would have laughed in your face. Truth is the man that was born in Mermoz when he slipped through the Andean passes.

„In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ch III : The Tool
Variant translation of: <span id="perfection"></span>Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.
Ch. III: L'Avion <!-- p. 60 -->
It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.
Terre des Hommes (1939)
Context: Have you looked at a modern airplane? Have you followed from year to year the evolution of its lines? Have you ever thought, not only about the airplane but about whatever man builds, that all of man's industrial efforts, all his computations and calculations, all the nights spent over working draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose sole and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?
It is as if there were a natural law which ordained that to achieve this end, to refine the curve of a piece of furniture, or a ship's keel, or the fuselage of an airplane, until gradually it partakes of the elementary purity of the curve of a human breast or shoulder, there must be the experimentation of several generations of craftsmen. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.

„To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one's comrades. It is to feel, when setting one's stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. II : The Men<!-- *** Livre de Poche n°68, p. 59 -->
Variant translation: To be a man is to be responsible: to be ashamed of miseries you did not cause; to be proud of your comrades' victories; to be aware, when setting one stone, that you are building a world.
Context: To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one's comrades. It is to feel, when setting one's stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.
There is a tendency to class such men with toreadors and gamblers. People extol their contempt for death. But I would not give a fig for anybody's contempt for death. If its roots are not sunk deep in an acceptance of responsibility, this contempt for death is the sign either of an impoverished soul or of youthful extravagance.

„All of us, in words that contradict each other, express at bottom the same exalted impulse. What sets us against one another is not our aims — they all come to the same thing — but our methods, which are the fruit of our varied reasoning.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. IX Barcelona and Madrid (1936)<!-- * L’expérience nous montre qu’aimer ce n’est point nous regarder l’un l’autre mais regarder ensemble dans la même direction. /** Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.-->
Context: No man can draw a free breath who does not share with other men a common and disinterested ideal. Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through union in the same high effort. Even in our age of material well-being this must be so, else how should we explain the happiness we feel in sharing our last crust with others in the desert? No sociologist's textbook can prevail against this fact. Every pilot who has flown to the rescue of a comrade in distress knows that all joys are vain in comparison with this one. And this, it may be, is the reason why the world today is tumbling about our ears. It is precisely because this sort of fulfilment is promised each of us by his religion, that men are inflamed today. All of us, in words that contradict each other, express at bottom the same exalted impulse. What sets us against one another is not our aims — they all come to the same thing — but our methods, which are the fruit of our varied reasoning.
Let us, then, refrain from astonishment at what men do. One man finds that his essential manhood comes alive at the sight of self-sacrifice, cooperative effort, a rigorous vision of justice, manifested in an anarchist's cellar in Barcelona. For that man there will henceforth be but one truth — the truth of the anarchists. Another, having once mounted guard over a flock of terrified little nuns kneeling in a Spanish nunnery, will thereafter know a different truth — that it is sweet to die for the Church. If, when Mermoz plunged into the Chilean Andes with victory in his heart, you had protested to him that no merchant's letter could possibly be worth risking one's life for, Mermoz would have laughed in your face. Truth is the man that was born in Mermoz when he slipped through the Andean passes.

„Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures — in this century, as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ch III : The Tool
Terre des Hommes (1939)
Context: Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures — in this century, as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together. Do our dreamers hold that the invention of writing, of printing, of the sailing ship, degraded the human spirit?
It seems to me that those who complain of man's progress confuse ends with means. True, that man who struggles in the unique hope of material gain will harvest nothing worth while. But how can anyone conceive that the machine is an end? It is a tool. As much a tool as is the plough. The microscope is a tool. What disservice do we do the life of the spirit when we analyze the universe through a tool created by the science of optics, or seek to bring together those who love one another and are parted in space?

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„Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: I had a vision of the face of destiny.
Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.

„I would not give a fig for anybody's contempt for death. If its roots are not sunk deep in an acceptance of responsibility, this contempt for death is the sign either of an impoverished soul or of youthful extravagance.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. II : The Men<!-- *** Livre de Poche n°68, p. 59 -->
Variant translation: To be a man is to be responsible: to be ashamed of miseries you did not cause; to be proud of your comrades' victories; to be aware, when setting one stone, that you are building a world.
Context: To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one's comrades. It is to feel, when setting one's stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.
There is a tendency to class such men with toreadors and gamblers. People extol their contempt for death. But I would not give a fig for anybody's contempt for death. If its roots are not sunk deep in an acceptance of responsibility, this contempt for death is the sign either of an impoverished soul or of youthful extravagance.

„Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well, it is very dashing, but—“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: "Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well, it is very dashing, but—"
And I was struck by the graphic image:
"But you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity."
And suddenly that tranquil cloud-world, that world so harmless and simple that one sees below on rising out of the clouds, took on in my eyes a new quality. That peaceful world became a pitfall. I imagined the immense white pitfall spread beneath me. Below it reigned not what one might think — not the agitation of men, not the living tumult and bustle of cities, but a silence even more absolute than in the clouds, a peace even more final. This viscous whiteness became in my mind the frontier between the real and the unreal, between the known and the unknowable. Already I was beginning to realize that a spectacle has no meaning except it be seen through the glass of a culture, a civilization, a craft. Mountaineers too know the sea of clouds, yet it does not seem to them the fabulous curtain it is to me.

„The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: I had a vision of the face of destiny.
Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.

„It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. IX Barcelona and Madrid (1936)
Context: Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men. … One man in misery can disrupt the peace of a city. It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.

„You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: I had a vision of the face of destiny.
Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.

„Translation: A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, book Flight to Arras

Les pierres du chantier ne sont en vrac qu’en apparence, s’il est, perdu dans le chantier, un homme, serait-il seul, qui pense cathédrale.
Pilote de Guerre (1942) (translated into English as Flight to Arras)

„But you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. I : The Craft
Context: "Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well, it is very dashing, but—"
And I was struck by the graphic image:
"But you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity."
And suddenly that tranquil cloud-world, that world so harmless and simple that one sees below on rising out of the clouds, took on in my eyes a new quality. That peaceful world became a pitfall. I imagined the immense white pitfall spread beneath me. Below it reigned not what one might think — not the agitation of men, not the living tumult and bustle of cities, but a silence even more absolute than in the clouds, a peace even more final. This viscous whiteness became in my mind the frontier between the real and the unreal, between the known and the unknowable. Already I was beginning to realize that a spectacle has no meaning except it be seen through the glass of a culture, a civilization, a craft. Mountaineers too know the sea of clouds, yet it does not seem to them the fabulous curtain it is to me.

„Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Terre des Hommes (1939), Ch. IX Barcelona and Madrid (1936)
Context: Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men. … One man in misery can disrupt the peace of a city. It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.

„Every nation is selfish and every nation considers its selfishness sacred.“

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Toute nation est égoïste. Toute nation considère son égoïsme comme sacré.
"Letter to an American" (1944)

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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