October 18th, 2021

The Little Prince, by Antoine de St-Exupéry (Le Petit Prince in the original French), is a book that has brought far more to Louise’s life than the pleasure of reading it that first time. She might say that she considers it a font of inspiration; a literary work with the force of a great spiritual source. I know that she returns to it again and again, drawing from its originality and richness.

This was how she presented her choice of quote to me:

Bon matin ma chère! Ce propos qui est apparu sur mon FB ce matin m’émeut à chaque fois que je le lis…. apprivoiser l’autre prend du temps, de la patience et aussi des silences…. je t’aime mon amie! (LC)

My translation:

Good morning my dear! This subject that appeared on my FB this morning moves me every time I read it…apprivoiser [my choice not to translate] another takes time, patience and also silences…I love you my friend!” (LC)


“… Le renard se tut et regarda longtemps le petit prince:

-S’il te plaît… apprivoise-moi ! dit-il.

Je veux bien, répondit le petit prince, mais je n’ai pas beaucoup de temps. J’ai des amis à découvrir et beaucoup de choses à connaître.

On ne connaît que les choses que l’on apprivoise, dit le renard. Les hommes n’ont plus le temps de rien connaître. Ils achètent des choses toutes faites chez les marchands. Mais comme il n’existe point de marchands d’amis, les hommes n’ont plus d’amis. Si tu veux un ami, apprivoise-moi !

Que faut-il faire? dit le petit prince.

Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’œil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

Goodreads translation:

“Please–tame me!’ he said.

‘I want to, very much,’ the little prince replied. ‘But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.’

‘One only understands the things that one tames,’ said the fox. ‘Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me.’

‘What must I do, to tame you?’ asked the little prince.

‘You must be very patient,’ replied the fox. ‘First you will sit down at a little distance from me-like that-in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

What jumped out at me the moment I read Louise’s offering was the word apprivoiser, which has always fascinated me because it illustrates the obstacles inherent in translating. You see, there IS a word in French that means “to tame”, and it’s dompter. A lion tamer is thus un dompteur de lion.

I remember the discussions I had with my FSL students surrounding “apprivoiser”. Its meaning is so much more nuanced than simply to tame, which is evident, I think, in The Little Prince. In contrast with dompter, which is a unilateral action–one party imposing their reality or their will upon that of another–apprivoiser and to be apprivoisé is a reciprocal experience. It’s mutual.

And that’s what makes it such a lovely verb. It requires patience. A willingness to give and take, and to bide one’s time.

A person can be apprivoisé, but so can a situation or a reality. In English, you wouldn’t say: I’m taming this new job experience, but in French, you would say: J’apprivoise doucement mon nouveau poste, mes nouvelles responsabilités. Apprivoiser can also mean, in part, to gentle a living thing, or to acclimate to something or someone new. To become more familiar with something, or someone, in increments.

Such a meaningful verb.


Illustration by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, from Le Petit Prince (1943)

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