Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1942 Beryl Markham, 1930s
“We fly, but we have not 'conquered' the air. Nature presides in all her dignity, permitting us the
study and the use of such of her forces as we may understand. It is when we presume to intimacy,
having been granted only tolerance, that the harsh stick fall across our impudent knuckles and
we rub the pain, staring upward, startled by our ignorance.”
“After that, work and hope. But never hope more than you work”
“Elephant, beyond the fact that their size and conformation are aesthetically more suited to the treading
of this earth than our angular informity, have an average intelligence comparable to our own. Of course
they are less agile and physically less adaptable than ourselves -- nature having developed their bodies
in one direction and their brains in another, while human beings, on the other hand, drew from Mr.
Darwin's lottery of evolution both the winning ticket and the stub to match it. This, I suppose, is why
we are so wonderful and can make movies and electric razors and wireless sets -- and guns with which
to shoot the elephant, the hare, clay pigeons, and each other.”
"To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like
scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths,
or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told -- that the world once lived
and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks."
"Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s
Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last
vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just
"We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a
craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world,
and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than
mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know - that
no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it."
"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where
all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest
way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because
it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable
from a distance."
“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour,
but in the ledger of his daily work.”
"You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know
about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you
strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog,
you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at
all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have
fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents--
each man to see what the other looked like. Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a
time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your
own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to
wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind -- such an experience
can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night.
You are the stranger."
‘Asleep? No. No, I am just thinking.’ And so I am. I spend so much time alone that
silence has become a habit."
“A map in the hands of a pilot is a testimony of a man's faith in other men; it is a symbol of
confidence and trust. It is not like a printed page that bears mere words, ambiguous and artful,
and whose most believing reader - even whose author, perhaps - must allow in his mind a
recess for doubt. A map says to you, 'Read me carefully, follow me closely, doubt me not.
' It says, 'I am the earth in the palm of your hand. Without me, you are alone and lost.”
"A word grows to a thought – a thought to an idea – an idea to an act. The change is slow,
and the Present is a sluggish traveler loafing in the path Tomorrow wants to take."
“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that
comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence
after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness,
the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless
object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything
that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak.
Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing
child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the
circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows.
It is a soundless echo.”
“The way to find a needle in a haystack is to sit down.”
“Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable
from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone,
I learned it late.”
Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1942
Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night? ...She has written so well, and marvellously
well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with
words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes
making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might
even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as
writers ... it really is a bloody wonderful book.
Born in England, Beryl (Clutterbuck) Markham moved to a farm near the Great Rift Valley in Kenya
(then British East Africa) with her family when she was four years old. She spent an adventurous
childhood among native Africans and became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya.
She continued to be a non-conformist and trailblazer in both her professional and personal lives,
marrying several times (and having numerous affairs). She also became an accomplished pilot,
and was one of the first to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west (against
prevailing winds) on September 4, 1936.
Her most famous book is the memoir "West With The Night", which went out of print shortly
after its publication in 1942, until it was rediscovered by a California restaurateur in 1982 and
achieved new popularity upon republication in 1983, during the final years of her life.