The Little Prince: Chapter 14

The fifth planet was unusual. It was the smallest of them all. There was only enough room on it for a street lamp and a lamplighter. The little prince could not gauge the use of a street lamp and a lamplighter on a planet without people or houses. Still, he thought, ‘It may be that this man is absurd. But he is not as absurd as the king, the show-off, the businessman, or the drunkard. At least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is like he’s brought another star to life, or a flower. When he puts it out, he puts the star or the flower to sleep. It’s a wonderful job. And so it is truly useful.’

When he arrived on the planet he politely said to the lamplighter:

‘Hello! Why have you put your lamp out?’

‘Those are my orders,’ replied the lamplighter. ‘Hello.’

‘What exactly are your orders?’

‘That I put out my lamp. Goodnight.’

And he lit his lamp again.

‘But why did you light it again?’

‘Those are my orders,’ said the lamplighter.

‘I can’t understand,’ said the little prince.

‘There is nothing to understand,’ said the lamplighter.

‘Orders are orders. Good morning.’

And he put out his lamp.

Then he mopped his forehead with a red checkered handkerchief.

‘Mine is a tough job. It wasn’t so before. I would put the lamp out in the morning and light it in the evening. I had the rest of the day to relax and the night for sleeping.’

‘And have the orders changed since then?’

‘The orders have not changed,’ said the lamplighter. ‘That is the problem! The planet turns faster and faster every year but my orders remain the same!’

‘What then?’ asked the little prince.

‘The planet now revolves once every minute, and I have no time to rest. So every minute I have to light my lamp and then put it out!’

‘That is so amusing – a day lasts only a minute here!’

‘It is not amusing at all!’ said the lamplighter. ‘We have been talking for a month already.’

‘A month?’

‘Yes. Thirty minutes equals thirty days! Goodnight.’

And he lighted his lamp again.

The little prince watched him. He really liked this lamplighter who was so faithful to his orders. He remembered the sunsets on his own planet. He could watch them by simply moving his chair. He wanted to help his friend. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I can show you a way to rest whenever you want to.’

‘I want to rest all the time,’ said the lamplighter.

It is possible for a person to be faithful and lazy at the same time.

The little prince explained: ‘Your planet is very small. It takes only three strides to go around it. To be in the light, you need to walk slowly. When you want to rest, you walk … and the day will last as long as you like.’

‘That doesn’t do me any good,’ said the lamplighter. ‘What I like to do is sleep.’

‘That’s unlucky,’ said the little prince.

‘It is unlucky,’ said the lamplighter. ‘Hello.’

And he put out his lamp.

‘That man,’ said the little prince to himself, as he continued on his journey, ‘would be scorned by the king, the show-off, the drunkard and the businessman. Yet he is the only one who does not seem ridiculous to me. Perhaps, it is because he cares for something besides himself.’

He breathed a sigh of regret, and thought, ‘That man is the only one who could have been my friend. But his planet is just too small and wouldn’t have room for two people.’

What the little prince wouldn’t admit to himself was that the most exciting aspect of the planet was its fourteen hundred and forty sunsets, every twenty-four hours!