north of oxford commentary

The Trajectory of Sharon Olds – a look at five poems

Sharon-Olds-PortraitcBret-768x511
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By Ray Greenblatt
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         Leafing through the most popular poems by Sharon Olds, I discerned the development of a mid-twentieth century woman. I am not interested in whether this is the poet’s actual life revealed; what I did see was the representative life of many American women, vivified by these highly emotional and uniquely rendered poems.

 

          The poems I will be investigating are: her parents in The Victims; dating in After Making Love in Winter; marriage in The Wedding Vow; her daughter in The Month of June: 13 ½; and finally divorce in Unspeakable.

                                                               I – THE VICTIMS

          This poem opens with rather prosaic lines explaining how the mother and her children battled against what must have been the abusive treatment perpetrated by the alcoholic father.

          We don’t begin to know the essence of the father until we encounter striking imagery. His suits were “those dark carcasses hung in your closet.” “Carcasses” were once living things that the father no longer is figuratively, having lost his living as well as being kicked out of his home.

          Likewise, that image is intensified by “the black noses of your shoes with their large pores.” Even the shoes were alive, if leather, especially if they had “noses.” “Their large pores” added a distasteful element to the human comparison that will be touched on later with the use of several other images.

          It seems as though the mother, with her own limitations, had to teach the children to hate, because love for parents can be a powerful, instinctive quality without the leaven of reason. So “we pricked with her for your annihilation” employs a strange verb in that context; the children had to be pushed. The excessive word “annihilation” underscores how their hate had reached extremes.

          Then the poem serves to view down-and-out street people. They are strongly described in ugly terms: “The white slugs of their bodies gleaming through slits in their suits of compressed silt” and “stained flippers of their hands.” It is as if these people inhabit an aqueous lower world.

          The final telling image continues the sea reference: “The underwater fire of their eyes, ships gone down with the lanterns lit.” These people are still alive—“fire of their eyes” and “lanterns lit” and we are led to wonder if the woman who has spoken throughout this poem has come to feel pity for people who have lost everything– including her father.

                                        II – AFTER MAKING LOVE IN WINTER

          This is a very sensual, passionate poem. After making love the woman feels “a plate of iron laid down on my nerves” and “our bodies touch like blooms of fire.”

          This experience has intensified all of her senses so that she sees “the light from the hall burns in straight lines and casts up narrow beams on the ceiling, a figure throwing up its arms for joy.” “The angle itself is blessed, and the dark globes of the chandeliers.”

          A very unique comparison is “the silvery bulbs” cause her to “feel my ovaries deep in my body.” The intensity of this sexual experience reverberates throughout her body to its very core.

          For her, intercourse has made her a complete human being; before, she was a child. “Like God putting the finishing touches on, before sending me down to be born.”

          And with the line “we have come to the end of questions” the woman and man no longer wonder if they can relate fully; they now feel that they have formed a deep indissoluble union.

                                                     III – THE WEDDING VOW

          The couple legalizes their relationship in a simple church, not an ornate high church. Although they have already made a laypersons’ pact between them, they desire a religious benediction.

          And religious imagery is significantly used. “God’s stable perfectly cleaned” while outside is “a moat of mud.” This stresses the plainness of the church, even employing a reference to where Jesus was born.
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          The poet uses what I may call a unique “delay technique.” For instance:
          In truth, we had married
          that first night, in bed, we had been
          married by our bodies, but now we stood
          in history—what our bodies had said,
          mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,
          gathered together, death.
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The word “death” holds considerable power coming at the very end of the sentence. It sums up a total relationship between two people that inevitably ends in old age and death.
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          Again: “We stood
          holding each other by the hand, yet I also
          stood as if alone, for a moment,
          just before the vow, though taken
          years before, took.
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“Took” shows that it involved a long time to develop a relationship before the woman personally could feel secure in it.
          Finally, early in the poem “flies” are wiped off the Bible the minister holds. Later in the poem they appear again to refer to the woman’s parents in a comparison of the two marriages:
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           I felt
           the silent, dry, crying ghost of my
           parents’ marriage there, somewhere
          in the bright space—perhaps one of the
          plummeting flies, bouncing silently
          as it hit forsaking all others
          then was brushed away.
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                                                  IV – THE MONTH OF JUNE: 13 ½

          Years later the couple now has a teenage daughter. They love her very much and applaud each of her growing stages. The poet capsulizes each stage by using school years. Kindergarten is defined as “a strip of thumb-suck blanket.” 1st grade is “a dim cocoon . . . back there somewhere on the path.” 4th grade was a “hard jacket . . . when she had so much pain.”  This reference is cleverly slurred over, as many youngsters encounter difficult times for myriad reasons. “Magenta rind of 5th grade” could mean the daughter graduated from one school, shedding one for another.

          And now 8th grade is “a chrysalis cracking”; she is outgrowing another school, but also as a person she is growing up. “The whole school is coming off her shoulders like a cloak unclasped.” “Her jerky sexy child joke dance is self, self.”  She can “jazz out her hands” and “chant I’m great! I’m great!”  She is not conceited, only realizing her worth.
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          The parents are watching:
          Like a good mother and a
          good father who looked down and
          love everything their baby does, the way she
          lives their love.
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The parents take joy in their daughter maturing into a feeling, expressive adult; so far they have succeeded in raising their child.

                                                           V – UNSPEAKABLE

          After thirty years of marriage the wife is involved in divorce. It is “unspeakable” because it is a tragedy to her; it might also be that she has not come to terms with it using reason. Her mate is “my almost-no-longer husband.”
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          She is still full of questions:  “What was it like, to love me—when you looked at me, what did you see?”
         She muses sadly: “When he loved me, I looked out at the world as if from inside a profound dwelling.”
          She thought:
          We were joined not just for breath’s time,
          but for the long continuance,
          the hard candies of femur and stone,
          the fastnesses.
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          She tries to show no anger, sometimes employs even humor. “All is courtesy and horror.”

          We don’t know the complete story. Is someone to blame? We don’t know his side—except hints of another woman—and never will. In life we often don’t learn all sides of a situation. A poem can explore just so much.  The ending is an enigma: “When I say, is this about her, and he says, No, it’s about you, we do not speak of her.”

I see these five poems as a five-act play about a woman’s life. A woman lives through a difficult childhood. She falls in love. She marries. She and her husband have a child who fulfills them. However, after considerable time their marriage bonds do not hold. The woman cannot say she is reliving her parents’ marriage; hers is different. Also, her child has received a firm foundation to live a healthy life. As all adults, the woman must meet new challenges and continue her life. With power, humanity, and keen poetic skills, Sharon Olds allows us to view all of these vicissitudes in life.
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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
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William Sansom—Poetic Stylist

PLEASURES

PLEASURES STRANGE AND SIMPLE

By Ray Greenblatt

We find poetry in the damnedest places. Sometimes in a TV ad; perhaps a bit of doggerel, but fresh in its context. Sometimes a phrase leaping from a letter we have written; surprising ourselves with this unconscious creativity. William Sansom (1912-1976) was primarily a fiction writer, penning articles probably for monetary supplement in numerous periodicals. However, this essay form reveals a deep poetic vein in his writing. His novels have fallen out of favor, but this collection of prose should be revisited.

Pleasures Strange and Simple covers a very broad gamut of topics. Sansom writes about: Henri Rousseau (Sansom also was a painter), nudism, restaurants, pets (from a glow-worm to a tarantula), tight-rope walkers, faces, Poe, dancing (Sansom was a jazz pianist), etc. Let us examine some of these twenty-three topics.

                           FROM ST. PETERSBURG TO COPENHAGEN BY TUNNEL

          Sansom explores a London train station, although the title of this essay is cryptic. He explains that Russian horses were trained for the World’s Fair near one of the station tunnels; near another tunnel stood a house owned by the King of Denmark, thus the names for the areas stuck. Here are the tracks: “Iron poles like the standards of ancient battles announce speed limits with mysterious metal numerals. Signals flap like tired high-stepping birds. Disc-signs dot the line like a scarlet fungus growth. Black engines glide like skaters on mysterious errands obliquely over a great iron-meshed rink. On wet days these move through low-pressed clouds of their own smoke and steam with the purposeless going and coming, the sense of haunted quest, of doomed despondent phantoms.” (45)

In that passage alone we can observe so many poetic qualities: varied rhythms (fitting for an oncoming train), series, alliteration, rhyme, and generally quite vivid word usage. Here we are inside a tunnel: “Half-way along the flint-track the rail raises its voice to remark, in dull embery lights, that no one should shunt past that point. At the needle-point ends of the tunnel, light still shows—but dull gold light, or light of fiery red, as the faraway daylight refracts at mid-day a strange sunset of distant smokes and steams.” (43)

In a tunnel recess Sansom watches: “Looking out from them the great iron engine pounding down seems more animated than usual, smoke and fire-glow give it life, it looks a little mad like a monstrous runaway horse or some vast and lively piece of furniture seen by a child in a dream. At a busy time of day a man can be trapped for as long as an hour or more in such safety vents with traffic continually passing and belching the blackening, sickening, throttling smoke.” (44) Again his metaphors are striking and his use of triplets powerful. He can, likewise, relate to a child’s view of the world.

                                                        IN THE MIDST OF LIFE

          Sansom contends that many people think life a touch boring, but accidents can befall a person at any time to overturn such complacency. He examines some who are already nervous about life: “Those who can never enter a lift unless their hearts, creaking like the tender cables that raise them, drop to their boots.” (58) But what about the following episodes: “Watching the light make a chandelier of sun-flashed icicles along the eaves, rejoicing in this new warmth and the great benison of the thaw. But you might not notice the long, heavy and sharply-pointed bull-icicle hanging like a glass dagger several storeys exactly above your own head.” (59)

We can observe Sansom’s lightness and ironic humor in this essay. Here is another possible mishap concerning a stack of barrels: ”A whisper of a lurch, a shifting creak, the dribble of a roll that informs those packed against it and stacked above. And then, as if a nervous message has shivered through the flanks of the herd, as if an instinctual urge for migration has galvanised the great colloquy—all the huge, heavy, headless mass of wood comes rolling down and onwards with the vertigo of a mighty, lumbering, thundering tidal wave.” (60) His choice of “sound” words (onomatopoeia) add to the emotion.

                                                      THREE INSECTS

          The tongue-in-cheek humor continues in this essay. First about a moth and a flame: “Its black eyes gazed fervently into the yellow fire above. It stared up at the yellow fire that had already burned off its foremost antennas with black eyes fixed in deep fanatical understanding. Slender whitish legs clasped the black wick, like hands wrung in prayer. And its wings! Its wings flowed downwards like a knight’s mantle, clasped high, spreading bravely over the armour of its body down to the platform of pale candle grease.” (173) A bit gruesome but very minute observation.

Now a beetle: “Beneath lay a rock pool. A new world of water, alien to the beetle, where strange drowned hairs waved, where shells slept, where perhaps the only movement was a slight bubbling of sand as a limpet thrust out its blind, toeless foot and dragged itself one, only one, pace forward. The beetle paused above this new world. Its feelers waved at the gleaming water. It tasted fresh enchantments, it savoured the grand limitless vista of new ground, new life, horizonless possibilities, space.” (175)

Notice the effectiveness of personification where the insect seems to display the sensibilities of a human. Finally a fly in a bathtub: “What a huge world confronted this little black pegasus in motor goggles! What vast tracks of smooth enamel, what complexities of mountain and valley lay bare to its exploring eye. What irregular pipe strata, what phenomena of taps and hooks, what chains and bowls and baskets and pipes, pipes, pipes—each a giant’s causeway for the small inquisitive visitor.” (177) As in a ballad the repetition builds the tension.

                                              TO SOUTHEND ON AN EAGLE

          In summer a Londoner takes a boat, the Eagle, down the Thames River for a day at the shore in Southend. “Warehouses and factories slipped backwards by. The sundecks were packed with a perplexity of chairs, now claimed with battling ardour and set out in rows facing the water-view.” (180) “Slipped backwards by” is unique phrasing that catches the ear as well as eye.

As time went on: “To the wide open sunlight that on this day shone hot through thin-veiled cloud, putting a curious grey sparkle on the water, grey-gilding everything, giving an air of misted dream to what on that broad river was in reality a strange industrial water-idyll.” (181)

At Southend entertainment of all sorts awaits: “The gentle Ferris Wheel, distorting mirrors and dark places wild with winds and skeletons. Or a deckchair on the beach. Or the beach without a deckchair. Or a stalk round the stalls and stands and the sea-food sellers’ and the ice-creameries and those most magical booths that sell vast globes of electric pink sugar floss.” (184) Again the use of “and” stresses the plethora of delights.

                                                  THROUGH A GLASS LIGHTLY

          Sansom recalls the mood glass set for him at an early age: “Grey light, grey and bright but never precisely clear, never exactly alive—as though the finest pale veil has been drawn across the eyes, as though indeed one is for a moment standing within the dead time of the past itself. And this becomes doubly mysterious—for this light was itself the past’s own light, our present illusion was then its actuality, this is no dust of bones; what is was.” (51)

Glass conditioned the light in London: “In such avenues of dolorous bluish glass it seemed to rain the whole year round. In the sunniest days an underwater gloom persisted. Leaving the front-door one stood for a moment startled—questioning the polished mosaic path for a bloom of moisture, the laurels for a slow dripping, the cast-iron tracery above for a glimpse of dark rainclouds in a sky that proved itself to be blue, almost, as the jealous panes that guarded it.” (53)

Many glass conservatories were erected: “Then bellying, jellying from back or side came the Conservatory. A soundless, breathless wilderness of pots and palms and wicker chairs. Sometimes a tinted frieze decorated the upper windows—red or yellow or purple as the hind-window of a tram. Sometimes the ironwork curled in a tasteful floral design from each supporting pillar.” (54)

Arcades soon appeared: “Arcades are one of the thoroughly useful things that also give pleasure. But why pleasure? It is very mysterious. Is it the sense that this is private property, a sense of pleasant intrusion? Or is it an animal, or even a womby, instinct for enclosure—the more exquisite for a kind of daylight filtering through, the hunter’s day and the safety of the lair at one and the same time?” (56) Not only does Sansom philosophize but he also shares English cultural history.

                                MY FIRST FIRE – FROM A FIREMAN’S JOURNAL

          William Sansom became a fireman in London during World War Two; thus, he gives more space to these adventures in this collection of essays. Their firehouse is so proud to get a new fire engine:  “So on that afternoon instantly all such men raced for their scrim and brasso, and then for an hour the great lady could hardly be seen for the massing of elbows—boney elbows, dimpled elbows, elbows high and short fat elbows, greased elbows all pistoning up and down like the limbs of worker-ants pushing and tugging at an enormous and bemused queen.” (187)

He gets inside the engine: “At any hour of the day you could—if you dared—raise her bonnet and see the bristles of your beard in the gleaming copper engine pipes. That petrol-engine became a masterpiece of artisan artcraft—gay as a Birmingham barge. Its bulk was blackleaded to a pewter brilliance, its little pipes of copper and brass polished until they ran like sparks. Its fan was lacquered scarlet, and everywhere there had been painted little bands of garden-roller green.” (187)

This is how a fire looks: “The coppery-red reflection of fire in the sky and on every building everywhere. This colour has the same enervating constancy as the smell of a fire. This too is solid, unwavering. After several hours it nauseates the eyes. It is live colour, the colour of a living element, it cannot grow dim and neutral with familiarity. It glares and sickens all the time. Every window, every brick, every tile, every block of stone, reflects this vivid colour force. There is just the coppery-red and the black shadows and no other colour.” (191)

In the previous paragraph he had hinted at the odor of fire: “A hundred other stores and factories each cook the firemen their own sweet dishes . . . a sugar factory—acres of boiling sweet molasses . . . a paint factory—and the poisonous fumes of blistered chemicals . . . a rubber depository . . . a toffee warehouse.” (193)

The look of a burning house: “It was a blue, moonlit night and the flames blazed orange. The house stood dark and detached in its own garden of trees and shrubbery walls. It was all dark up to the top two floors and there the bright fire suddenly began. Windows sprang to life. And above, through broken rafters, the flames curled out nakedly into the night. A hail of sparks and small embers eddied round the chimneys and false turrets.  The house looked like a miniature castle on fire, a pyrotechnic display piece, the kind of fire you would find drawn in a children’s fairy book.” (193)

He looks for his fellow firemen in the house; when he glances them it resembles a tableau painting: “Then I saw them. The fireglow from the room flickered over their silver buttons and over the water on their faces and helmets and leggings. Their faces were black, like sweeps’ faces, with white eye-rings and pink rings round their mouths. They were all clustered round the nozzle of the hose, leaning forward against the recoil of water pressure, heads bent down to protect their faces from the singeing heat, swaying from side to side as they swept the room with a thundering broom of white water.” (197) A suitable way, I think, to end a discussion by a writer who was also an artist.

Let us hope that William Sansom’s novels will be rediscovered in the near future. During his lifetime he never published even one book of poetry!

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Pleasures-Strange-Simple-Sansom-William/dp/B0000CIGGJ

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

 

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupery

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By Ray Greenblatt
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          I had never reviewed a memoir in translation for fear that it would not equal the original in quality. However, the literary reputation of Lewis Galantiere (1895-1977)–the French translator of Saint Exupery’s book—greatly reassured me. Not only was he an intimate friend of the author, but he had translated another Saint Exupery best seller Night Flight (1931). In addition, Galantiere had translated the dramatist Jean Anouilh into English and was president of PEN, the oldest international literary organization. These two friends were so close that when Saint Exupery was having trouble naming his book—and suggestions abounded: Land of Humans? Land of Men? Stars in Windy Conditions? etc.—Galantiere’s title immediately struck Saint Exupery as perfect: Wind, Sand and Stars (1939). And this translation has sold unchallenged into the present era!
                                                          I – The Art of Aviation
          Antoine de Saint Exupery avidly began to fly in 1922 in the still early stages of aviation. His first book Southern Mail published in 1929 and all subsequent works were about flying. In his career he flew to the Far East and South America; however, his main focus was the Saharan region.
          The author puts us into the cockpit: “Already one has a foretaste of the treasures about to be garnered on the way—the green and brown and yellow lands promised by the maps; the rosary of resounding names that make up the pilot’s beads; the hours to be picked up one by one on the eastward flight into the sun.
          “There is a particular flavor about the tiny cabin in which, still only half awake, you stow away your thermos flasks and odd parts and over-night bag; in the fuel tanks heavy with power; and best of all, forward, in the magical instruments set like jewels in their panel and glimmering like a constellation in the dark of night. The mineral glow of the artificial horizon, these stethoscopes designed to take the heartbeat of the heavens, are things a pilot loves. The cabin of a plane is a world unto itself, and to the pilot it is home.” (171)
          The crew make an interdependent team, even the men on the ground tracking them: “The operator sits in the light of his lamp, dutifully setting down figures; the mechanic ticks off points on his chart; the pilot swerves in response to the drift of the mountains as quickly as he sees that the summits he intends to pass on the left have deployed straight ahead of him in a silence and secrecy as of military preparations. And below on the ground the watchful radio men in their shacks take down submissively in their notebooks the dictation of their comrade in the air.”  (24)
          A veteran pilot kept the novices humble by telling sobering tales.“The very curtness of his replies on these tempestuous days was matter enough out of which to build a fabulous world filled with snares and pitfalls, with cliffs suddenly looming out of fog and whirling air-currents of a strength to uproot cedars. Black dragons guarded the mouths of the valley and clusters of lightning crowned the crests—for our elders were always at some pains to feed our reverence.”  (12) Saint Exupery enjoyed incorporating mythology into his writing.
          A pilot must be able to read the landscape. “The hours during which a man flies over this mirror are hours in which there is no assurance of the possession of anything in the world. These palms beneath the plane are so many poisoned flowers. And even when the flight is an easy one, made under a shining sun, the pilot navigating at some point on the line is not gazing upon a scene. These colors of earth and sky, these traces of wind over the face of the sea, these clouds golden in the afternoon, are not objects of the pilot’s admiration, but of his cogitation. He looks to them to tell him the direction of the wind or the progress of the storm, and the quality of the night to come.” (33)
          What is the true nature of an airplane: “In this spirit do engineers, physicists concerned with thermodynamics, and the swarm of preoccupied draughtsmen tackle their work in appearance, but only on appearance they seem to be polishing surfaces and refining away angles, easing this joint or stabilizing that wing, rendering these parts invisible, so that in the end there is no longer a wing hooked to a framework but a form flawless in its perfection completely disengaged from its matrix, a sort of spontaneous whole, its parts mysteriously fused together and resembling in their unity a poem.” (66)  The author is able to define science in terms of the Fine Arts.
          Saint Exupery believed that machinery could reconnect man with nature: “And thus, also, the realities of nature resume their pride of place. It is not with metal that the pilot is in contact. Contrary to the vulgar illusion, it is thanks to the metal, and by virtue of it, that the pilot rediscovers nature. As I have already said, the machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” (67)
          The value of flying:  “Flying is a man’s job and its worries are a man’s worries. A pilot’s business is with the wind, with the stars, with night, with sand, with the sea. He strives to outwit the forces of nature. He stares in expectancy for the coming of dawn the way a gardener awaits the coming of spring. He looks forward to port as to a promised land, and truth for him is what lives in the stars.”  (227)
                                                          II – Men of the Air
          Those early aviators took many chances since planes were so unsophisticated. “Flying by the seat of your pants,” was a common expression. Many of Saint Exupery’s colleagues crashed. Here is Guillaumet after his place went down, facing death in the snow. Saint Exupery addresses him as if the author were there: “Already you were beginning to taste the relief of this snow that had now become an insidious poison, this morphia that was filling you with beatitude. Life crept out of your extremities and fled to collect round your heart while something gentle and precious snuggled in close at the centre of your being. Little by little your consciousness deserted the distant regions of your body, and your body, that beast now gorged with suffering, lay ready to participate in the indifference of marble.” (56) Only the intense guilt about his wife and children being alone forced him to struggle on to eventual safety.
          Another friend Mermoz crashed on a high mesa in Chile: “Mermoz and his mechanic had been forced down at an altitude of twelve thousand feet on a table-land at whose edges the mountain dropped sheer on all sides. For two mortal days they hunted a way off this plateau. But they were trapped. Everywhere the same sheer drop. And so they played their last card.
          “Themselves still in it, they sent the plane rolling and bouncing down an incline over the rocky ground until it reached the precipice, went off into the air, and dropped. In falling, the plane picked up enough speed to respond to the controls. Mermoz was able to tilt its nose in the direction of a peak, sweep over the peak, and, while the water spurted through all the pipes burst by the night frost, the ship already disabled after only seven minutes of flight, he saw beneath him like a promised land the Chilean plain.
          “And the next day he was at it again.” (40)
          However, it was Saint Exupery himself who seemed to need the nine lives of a cat or more. Here he is temporarily caught in a tornado: “The mountain range stood up like a crenellated fortress against the pure sky while the cyclone crushed me down to the surface of the waters. How hard that wind was blowing I found out as soon as I tried to climb, as soon as I became conscious of my disastrous mistake: throttle wide open, engines running at my maximum, which was one hundred and fifty miles an hour, my plane hanging sixty feet over the water, I was unable to budge. When a wind like this one attacks a tropical forest it swirls through the branches like a flame, twists them into corkscrews, and uproots giant trees as if they were radishes. Here, bounding off the mountain range, it was leveling out the sea.” (86)
          After another crash he has this physical sensation: “When I opened my eyes I saw nothing but the pool of nocturnal sky, for I was lying on my back with out-stretched arms, face to face with that hatchery of stars. Only half awake, still unaware that those depths were sky, having no root between those depths and me, no branches to screen them, no root to cling to, I was seized with vertigo and felt myself as if flung forth and plunging downward like a diver.” (105)
          He then has a dream about his imperturbable and eternal nanny: “Ah, I owe you a page, Mademoiselle! When I came home from my first journeyings  I found you needle in hand, up to the knees in your white surplices, each year a little more wrinkled, a little more round-shouldered, still preparing for our slumbers those sheets without creases, for our dinners those cloths without seams, those feasts of crystal and of snow.
          “I would go up to see you in your sewing-room, would sit down beside you and tell you of the dangers I had run in order that I might thrill you, open your eyes to the world, corrupt you. You would say that I hadn’t changed a whit.” (108)
          When Saint Exupery and his mechanic Prevot crashed in the Sahara, after days without sustenance they began to hallucinate: “When we had struggled up to the top of the black hump we sat down and looked at each other. At our feet lay our valley of sand, opening into a desert of sand whose dazzling brightness seared our eyes. As far as the eye could see lay empty space. But in that space the play of light created mirages which, this time, were of a disturbing kind, fortresses and minarets, angular geometric hulks. I could see also a black mass that pretended to be vegetation, overhung by the last of those clouds that dissolve during the day only to return at night. This mass of vegetation was the shadow of a cumulus.” (201)
          Then later: “Amazement stopped me in my tracks. Joy surged up and filled my heart with its violence. In the firelight stood Prevot , talking to two Arabs  who were leaning against the motor. He had not noticed me, for he was too full of his own joy. If only I had sat still and waited with him! I should have been saved already. Exultantly I called out:
          ‘Hi! Hi!’
          The two Bedouins gave a start and stared at me. Prevot left them standing and came forward to meet me.  I opened my arms to him. He caught me by the elbow. Did he think I was keeling over? I said:
          ‘At last, eh?’
          ‘What do you mean?’
          ‘The Arabs!’
          ‘What Arabs?’
          ‘Those Arabs there, with you.’
          Prevot looked at me queerly, and when he spoke I felt as if he was very reluctantly confiding a great secret to me:
          ‘There are no Arabs here.’
          This time I know I am going to cry.” (215) Notice how effective the sudden  switch to present tense intensifies his dilemma.
          Saint Exupery lived from 1900 to 1944. His writing shows strong philosophical and poetic traits. I feel that he was fortunate to have lived that long. After so many accidents he was in chronic pain. He had trouble turning his upper body so had to be helped getting into his plane. He grew depressed and began to drink heavily. However, his writing became a compulsion as if he was budgeting the small amount of time left before he disappeared into the sea on his final mission.
                                                       III – Men of the Earth
          Foremost, Saint Exupery believed in individual freedom. He wanted no part of a bureaucrat’s life. “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.” (23)
          The author had fallen in love with the desert: “This sea of sand bowled me over. Unquestionably it was filled with mystery and with danger. The silence that reigned over it was not the silence of emptiness but of plotting, of imminent enterprise. I sat still and stared into space. The end of the day was near. Something half revealed yet wholly unknown had bewitched me. The love of the Sahara, like love itself, is born of a face perceived and never really seen. Ever after this first sight of your new love, an indefinable bond is established between you and the veneer of gold on the sand in the late sun.” (130)
          He grew to respect the desert nomads’ way of life:
          “’What is he saying?’ I ask once again.
         ‘That he will shoot you if he meets you outside the fort.’
          ‘Why?’
          ‘He says you have airplanes and the wireless; you have Bonnafous {a French leader}; but you have not the Truth.’
          Emotionless in the sculptured folds of his blue cloak, Mouyan has judged me.
          ‘He says you eat greens like the goat and pork like the pigs. Your wives are shameless and show their faces—he has seen them. He says you never pray. He says, what good are your airplanes and wireless and Bonnafous, if you do not possess the Truth?’
          And I am forced to admire this Moor who is not about to defend his freedom, for in the desert a man is always free; who is not about to defend his visible treasures, for the desert is bare; but who is about to defend a secret kingdom.” (149)
          Saint Exupery found other truths when he flew into Spain during the Civil War in 1936. “Truth is not that which can be demonstrated by the aid of logic. If orange-trees are hardy and rich in fruit in this bit of soil and not that, then this bit of soil is what is truth for orange-trees. If a particular religion, or culture, or scale of values, if one form of activity rather than another, brings self-fulfillment to a man, releases the prince asleep within him unknown to himself, then that scale of values, that culture, that form of activity, constitute his truth. Logic, you say? Let logic wangle its own explanation of life.” (240)
          Another question he asks is why a man would risk his life. “The call that stirred you must torment all men.  Whether we dub it sacrifice, or poetry, or adventure, it is always the same voice that calls . . . What, Sergeant, were the visions that governed your destiny and justified your risking your life in this adventure? Your life, your only treasure! We have to live a long time before we become men. Very slowly do we plait the braid of friendships and affections. We learn slowly. We compose our creation slowly. And if we die too early we are in a sense cheated out of our share. We have to live a long time to fulfill ourselves . . . A great wind swept through you and delivered from the matrix the sleeping prince you sheltered—Man within you. You are the equal of the musician composing his music, of the physicist extending the frontier of knowledge, of all those who build the highways over which we march to deliverance. Now you are free to gamble with death. What have you now to lose?” (287)
          After someone’s death, what do we really love in him? “Gone was the feeble spark of humanity. And while in the man’s throat there was brewing that shriek which I know not what deferred, he had the leisure to reflect that it was not those lips he had loved but their pout, not them but their smile. Not those eyes, but their glance. Not that breast, but its gentle swell. He was free to discover at last the source of the anguish love had been storing up for him, to learn that it was the unattainable he had been pursuing. What he had yearned to embrace was not the flesh but a downy spirit, a spark, the impalpable angel that inhabits the flesh.” (265) Saint Exupery was asking this through the mind of a soldier but that man represented all men including the author.
          And what truly fulfills a man? “To come to man’s estate it is not necessary to get oneself killed round Madrid, or to fly mail planes, or to struggle wearily in the snows out of respect for the dignity of life.  The man who can see the miraculous in a poem, who can take pure joy from music, who can break his bread with comrades, opens his window to the same refreshing wind off the sea. He too learns a language of men.” (301)
          Qualities of Saint Exupery’s best selling book for children The Little Prince (1943)—translated into over two hundred languages—are also found in Wind, Sand and Stars. It is a blend of bare realism with a mystic view of man in the universe. From another planet the Prince has come to the Sahara to observe the ways of men. Saint Exupery is a man who many times met extreme rigors between life and death. From these experiences, instead of a jaundiced view of life, he—like the Prince—developed a deep love for the world and his fellow human beings.
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Ray Greenblatt has recently been published in: Abbey, Apiary, Boston Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Clarion, and Painters & Poets.  His experimental novel TWENTY YEARS ON GRAYSHEEP BAY, half poetry and half prose, is being republished by Sunstone Press.

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