WHEN a French reconnaissance aircraft, with Antoine de Saint.Exupery at the controls, disappeared somewhere in the. MediterraneanSea on the last day of July, 1944, the world lost not only a gallant man who knew how to die. It lost that rare
being, a "practical mystic," who had learnt the art of contemplation among the stars he loved, and whose deep and enduring compassion for his fellow-men-stamped in delibly on all he wrote-made him
Now, nearly eight years after his death, his final book has appeared. The Wisdom of the Sands (Hollis & Carter, 2Is.), translated from the French Citadelle by Stuart Gilbert, Pt based on the notes which SaintExupery assiduously scribbled from time to time between flights during the last five years of his life.
There can be no question that The Wisdom of the Sands is an exquisite
piece of art, and very little of the crystal-clear quality and often start ling beauty of its author's imagery is sacrificed in Stuart Gilber(s masterly translation.
Casting himself in the somewhat utopian role of a desert chieftain, Saint-Exupery unfolds his own philosophy or life in describing how be discharges his duties and responsibilities as an all-posterful ruler, with the heart of a man but something of the vision cif a saint. The desert empire presents its OSell savage difficulties, apart from the invariable human problems which are our Adarole inheritance.
One might be tempted to suggest that here, in his own remote empire. Saint-Exupery is striving to escape from the turmoil and complexity of modern life. Perhaps that thought occurred to him when he speaks of "the mirage of the happy isle," and warns his people that "in that happy isle you will find neither freedom. nor love nor exaltation." The whole world is a battlefield of principles and values, and the desert which be once called 'the naked rind of the planet" is as crucial a sector as arty other, though the issue may seem simpler and more decisive.
It was in the air that Saint-Exupery discovered and came to terms with himself. Ponder that passage n
i which he wrote: "The machine which at first blush seems a means of isolating man from the great problems of nature, actually plunges him more deeply into them. As for the peasant, so for the pilot. dawn and twilight become events of consequence. His essential problems are set him by the mountain, the sea, the wind. Alone before the vast tribunal of the tempestuous sky the pilot defends his mails and debates on terms of equality with those three elemental divinities."
And as for the social consequences of the science of flight: "Young barbarians still marvelling at our new toys-that is what we are. . . . In the enthusiasm of our rapid mechanical conquests we have overlooked sonic things. We have perhaps driven men into the service of the machine. instead of building machinery for the service of man. But could anything be more natural? So long as we were engaged in conquest, our spirit was the spirit of conquerors. The time has come when we must he colonists. must make this house habitable which is still without
character. . ."
His spiritual optimism, his belief in and compassion for mankind seldom deserted him. Only in regard to his own eventual end had he doubts that seemed to harden with time into premonition. Like Yeats's young Irish airman, he appeared to foreknow the death he would meet "somewhere in the clouds above.' Indeed, a line in "Night Flight" might well have been his epitaph. and the epitaph of all pioneers with his own seer-like intuition. That poignant line which sums up all suecinyd:00 'm'Reid,, ch, beyond all dreams but A Monk at the Potter's Wheel (Edmund Ward, 22a. 6d.), Fr. Vincent Eley.. the Cistercian artist of Mount St. Bernard's, tells the story of how he learnt the craft of pottery and thus brought to life again yet another of the many sides of Cistercian work as it existed in preReformation England.
In certain ways this is a specialist's hook. but the spirit that breathes though it is the contemplative life of the Cistercian. For this alone it should be widely read. And the beauty of it is that Fr. Vincent very rarely makes any [tired reference to his great Order's way of life or to directly spiritual matters.
The contemplative spirit is carried to the reader in two chief ways. The first is the sense of artistic creation, the making of things that are beautiful because the spirit of man near to God is in them. and because their purpose is homely, practical, indivtdual, human. They are a song of praise springing literally from dedicated work.
The second is the joy of Fr. Vincent bubbling through every paragraph, the perfect simplicity (which does not exclude dexterity) of his style, the naive, happy sense of humour, the spontaneous humility a (which does not exclude deep satisfaction in the use of God-given talents for God's greater glory and the use of man).
If ever one wanted to convey the lovely quality of the life of the good monk, one could hardly do better than pass on this book, which breathes the simplicity of spirituality -and that, I am sure, quite unconsciously-in every line.
One could quote pages but choose a sentence which reveals the author's jolly approach. He is describing a period at Loughborough College School of Art where he trained for a period: "There were moments, as is natural. when joie de vivre got the better of decorum. After one of these bouts a student offered apologies for the prevailing levity, but I reassured him by explaining that this was but the symptom of art
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