Picasso is said to have said that inspiration exists but needs to find you working. Similar in sentiment is Saint-Exupéry’s thoughts on illumination. Yes, it can strike you suddenly and apparently miraculously, but only if you’ve made the effort to learn the grammar and syntax of it.
It is true that a sudden illumination may now and then light up a destiny and impel a man in a new direction. But illumination is a vision, suddenly granted the spirit, at the end of a long and gradual preparation. Bit by bit I learnt my grammar. I was taught my syntax. My sentiments were awakened. And now suddenly a poem strikes me in the heart.
Incidentally, I am taking this approach in several ways. Reading poems and stories on one front. On another, studying Italian with more discipline and systematization than I have applied to any other language – I still struggle to form sentences, but sense a groundswell of grammar, syntax and etymology flowing together. Now, back to those verb and cognate tables…
Source: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, trans. by Lewis Galantière (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), p. 48
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