This is a popup for the Chinese version of On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur 'It is only with the heart that one sees rightly', from The Little Prince.

little prince Adding an explicit Object

See with the heart
voit (les choses)
'see (things)'
kàn shìqing
'see things'


Like French and English, Chinese doesn't need to specify the object of the verb 'to see' and most translators follow the original in this.

But for some reason, about a quarter of Chinese translators (13 out of the 48) choose to spell out an object. The most common expression (5 occurrences) is 事物的本质 shìwù de běnzhì 'the essence of things'.

Most of those who spell out an object use expressions meaning 'see clearly' (看得清 kàn-de-qīng etc.) That is, translators using simple expressions like 'see clearly' are more likely to want to spell out exactly what is seen clearly with the heart.

A closer look at the objects involved reveals rather three different situations:

1. Five translators insert a token object, roughly equivalent to the word 'things' in the English translation by Cuffe. These are: 一切 yīqiè 'everything' (two cases), 世界 shìjiè 'the world' (one case), 事情 shìqing 'things' (one case), and 凡事 fánshì 'all things' (two cases). The ensuing sentence ('what is essential is invisible to the eye') then spells out l'essentiel more fully.

2. Three basically bring forward the subject of the following sentence, i.e., l'essentiel 'what is essential' is transferred into this sentence as the object of the verb. The second sentence either lacks a subject or uses a subject like zhè 'this'.

人,只有用自己的心灵才能看清事物的本质 光凭眼睛是看不到的
Rén, zhǐ yǒu yòng zìjǐ de xīnlíng cái néng kàn-qīng shìwù de běnzhì, guāng píng yǎnjing shì kàn-bu-dào de
People can only see the essence of things with their own hearts. only relying on the eyes [it] can't be seen.

The object in these cases is 事物的本质 shìwù de běnzhì 'the essence of things'.

3. There are four translators who resort to overkill, hitting the reader over the head with a double whammy -- an object in this sentence and an explanatory subject in the following sentence:

一個人只有用心靈才能看得到真實的東西 真正重要的東西不是眼睛可以看得到的
Yīge rén zhǐ yǒu yòng xīnlíng cái néng kàn-de-dào zhēnshí de dōngxi zhēnzhèng zhòngyào de dōngxi búshì yǎnjing kěyǐ kàn-de-dào de
A person only with the spirit can see true things truly important things the eye can't see

This translation uses the object 真實的東西 zhēnshí de dōngxi 'true things'. Two others have the object 事物的本质 shìwù de běnzhì 'essence of things'. Another uses the expanded interpretation 事物的真偽和重要性 shìwù de zhēnwěi hé zhòngyàoxìng 'the truth and falseness and importance of things'. Added to the additional explanation in the second sentence, this is a truly heavy-handed translation!

While the 'double-whammy' approach may be rather heavy handed, it does, however, have the advantage of giving the translator the opportunity to capture all aspects of the meaning of the word l'essentiel, by giving one aspect in the first sentence (e.g., 'the essence of things') and the second aspect in the second sentence (e.g., 'truly important things'). See the translation of l'essentiel in the second sentence.

In addition, there is one translator who reverses the order of the two sentences. The topic ('the essence of all things') is placed at the very start:

Yīqiè shìwù de běnzhì, yòng ròuyǎn shì kàn-bu-dào de, zhǐ yǒu yòng xīn qù kàn, cái néng tǐhuì dào.
'The essence of all things can't see with the naked eyes, Only looking with the heart can know.'

The object may be placed at at least three positions in the sentence.

Placing of the object


Most translations with an explicit object place it in its normal position after the verb. A minority make it into the topic. One makes it the object of the A clause.

Clause A
Object of Clause A
Clause B
Object of Clause B
凡事 (2)
zhǐ yǒu yòng xīn qù kàn
cái néng kàn-de-qīng
-- -- 1. 事物的本质 (5)
shìwu de běnzhì
'the essence of things'
2. 事物的真偽和重要性
shìwu de zhēnwěixìng hé zhòngyàoxìng
'the truth or falsity and importance of things'
3. 真實的東西
zhēnshí de dōngxi
'true things'
4. 一切 (2)
'all things'
5. 世界
'the world'