Quotes by Isak Dinesen

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It is more than their land that you take away from the people, whose native land you take. It is their past as well, their roots and their identity. If you take away the things that they have been used to see and will be expecting to see, you may, in a way, as well take their eyes. more...

Coffee, according to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the Word of the Lord is to the soul. more...

There are many ways to the recognition of truth, and Burgundy is one of them. more...

I do not know if you remember the tale of the girl who saves the ship under mutiny by sitting on the powder barrel with her lighted torch and all the time knowing that it is empty? This has seemed to me a charming image of the women of my time. There they were, keeping the world in order by sitting on the mystery of life and knowing themselves that there was no mystery. more...

And I had by now become used to the idea of witchcraft, it seemed a reasonable thing, so many things are about, at night, in Africa. more...

Be not afraid of absurdity; do not shrink from the fantastic. Within a dilemma, choose the most unheard-of, the most dangerous solution. Be brave, be brave. more...

The divine art is the story. more...

There was a place in the Hills, on the first ridge in the Game Reserve, that I myself at the time when I thought that I was to live and die in Africa, had pointed out to Denys as my future burial-place. In the evening, while we sat and looked at the hills from my house, he remarked that then he would like to be buried there himself as well. Since then, sometimes when we drove out in the hills, Denys had said: "Let us drive as far as our graves. more...

You can't change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future. more...

There is something about Safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows more...

The entire being of a woman is a secret which should be kept. more...

Be unswervingly and eternally loyal to the story. more...

It is not the visions but the activity which makes you happy, and the joy and glory of the flier is the flight itself. more...

The present is always unsettled, no one has had time to contemplate it in tranquillity . I was a painter before I was a writer and a painter never wants the subject right under his nose; he wants to stand back and study a landscape with half-closed eyes. more...

The air was cold to the lungs, the long grass dripping wet, and the herbs on it gave out their spiced astringent scent. In a little while on all sides the Cicada would begin to sing. The grass was me , and the air, the distant invisible mountains were me, the tired oxen were me. I breathed with the slight night-wind in the thorn trees. more...

In those days I had various strong inclinations, for wine, gambling and cockfighting, and the society of gypsies, together with a passion for theological discussion which I had inherited from my father himself-all of which my father thought I had better rid myself of before I married. more...

I felt that Paris was illuminated by a splendor possessed by no other places. more...

It is a good thing to be a great sinner. Or should human beings allow Christ to have died on the Cross for the sake of our petty lies and our paltry whorings more...

Truth is for tailors and shoemakers. I, on the contrary, have always held that the Lord has a penchant for masquerades. more...

I belong to an ancient, idle, wild, and useless tribe... I am a storyteller. more...

The lime trees were in bloom. But in the early morning only a faint fragrance drifted through the garden, an airy message, an aromatic echo of the dreams during the short summer night. more...

To be a person is to have a story to tell. more...

I don't think... one get a flash of happiness once, and never again; it is there deep within you... more...

You must not think that I feel, in spite of it having ended in such defeat, that my "life has been wasted" here, or that I would exchange it with that of anyone I know. more...

What is life when you come to think upon it, but a most excellent, accurately set, infinitely complicated machine for turning fat playful puppies into old mangy blind dogs, and proud war horses into skinny nags, and succulent young boys, to whom the world holds great delights and terrors, into old weak men, with running eyes, who drink ground rhino-horn? more...

Humanity has made a great error in seizing on a certain moment, no more intrinsically notable than any other moment and has called it Birth. The habit of honoring one single instant of the universal process to the disadvantage of other instants has done more, perhaps, than anything to obfuscate the crystal clearness of the fundamental flux. more...

Some people have an unconquerable love of riddles. They may have the chance of listening to plain sense, or to such wisdom that explains life; but no, they must go and work their brains over a riddle, just because they do not understand what it means. more...

And were my faith so strong that it could move mountains, that is the mountain that I would make come to me. more...

As we grow old we slowly come to believe that everything will turn out badly for us, and that failure is in the nature of things; but then we do not much mind what happens to us one way or the other. more...

Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be. more...

It is impossible that a town will not play a part in your life, it does not even make much difference whether you have more good or bad things to say of it, it draws your mind to it, by a mental law of gravitation. more...

No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it. more...

There is a particular hapiness in giving a man whom you like very much, good food that you have cooked yourself. more...

I was young, and by instinct of self-preservation I had to collect my energy on something, if I were not to be whirled away with the dusk on the farm-roads, or the smoke on the plain. I begun in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales, and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times. more...

Here I am, where I am supposed to be. more...

It is a sad hardship and slavery to people who live in towns, that in their movements they know of one dimension only; they walk along the line as if they were led on a string. The transition from the line to the plane into the two dimensions, when you wander across a field or through a wood, is a splendid liberation to the slaves, like the French Revolution. But in the air you are taken into the full freedom of the three dimensions; after long ages of exile and dreams the homesick heart throws itself into the arms of space. more...

But by the time that I had nothing left, I myself was the lightest thing of all for fate to get rid of. more...

Where the storyteller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there, in the end, silence will speak. Where the story has been betrayed, silence is but emptiness. But we, the faithful, when we have spoken our last word, will hear the voice of silence. more...

I have read true piety defined as: loving one's destiny unconditionally - and there is something in it. That is to say: I think that in a way this sort of "religiousness" is the condition for real happiness. more...

There is hardly any other sphere in which prejudice and superstition of the most horrific kind have been retained so long as in that of women, and just as it must have been an inexpressable relief for humanity when it shook off the burden of religious prejudice and superstition, I think it will be truly glorious when women become real people and have the whole world open before them. more...

Real art must always involve some witchcraft. more...

The best of my nature reveals itself in play, and play is sacred. more...

During the first quarter of the last century, seaside resorts became the fashion, even in those countries of Northern Europe within the minds of whose people the sea had hitherto held the role of the devil, the cold and voracious hereditary foe of humanity. more...

God made the world, My Lord, and looked at it, and saw that it was good. Yes. But what if the world had looked back at him, to see whether he was good or not? more...

My love was both humble and audacious, like that of a page for his lady... more...

The consolations of the vulgar are bitter in the royal ear. Let physicians and confectioners and servants in the great houses be judged by what they have done, and even by what they have meant to do; the great people themselves are judged by what they are. I have been told that lions, trapped and shut up in cages, grieve from shame more than from hunger. more...

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold. more...

Tragedy should remain the right of human beings, subject, in their conditions or in their own nature, to the dire law of necessity. To them it is salvation and beatification. more...

Human talk is a centrifugal function, ever in flight outwards from what is on the talker's mind. more...

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home. more...

One does not travel by plane. One is merely sent, like a parcel. more...

To me, the explanation of life seems to be its melody, its pattern. And I feel in life such an infinite, truly inconceivable fantasy. more...

I have read true piety defined as: loving one's destiny unconditionally - and there is something in it. That is to say: I think that in a way this sort of "religiousness" is the condition for real happiness. more...

Write a little every day, without hope, without despair. more...

A visitor is a friend, he brings news, good or bad, which is bread to the hungry minds in lonely places. A real friend who comes to the house is a heavenly messenger, who brings the panis angelorum. more...

When in the end, the day came on which I was going away, I learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them. more...

All sorrows can be borne if you can put them into a story. more...

We must leave our mark on life while we have it in our power. more...

Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best. more...

our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home. more...

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. more...

It's an odd feeling-farewell-there is some envy in it. Men go off to be tested for courage and if we're tested at all, it's for patience, for doing without, for how well we can endure loneliness. more...

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me? more...

I start with a tingle, a kind of feeling of the story I will write. Then come the characters, and they take over, they make the story. more...

Of all the idiots I have met in my life, and the Lord knows they have not been few or little, I think that I have been the biggest. more...

The Cicada sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek. You are the privileged person to whom everything is taken. The Kings of Tarshish shall bring gifts. more...

All suffering is bearable if it is seen as part of a story. more...

Then Martine said: "So yuo will be poor now all your life, Babette?" Poor?" said Babette. She smiled as if to herself. "No, I shall never be poor. I told you that I am a great artist. A great artist, Mesdames, is never poor.We have something, Mesdames, of which other people know nothing. more...

What is it which is bought dearly, offered for nothing, and then most often refused?-Experience, old people's experience. more...

We invent the past and remember the future. more...

In the mind and nature of a man a secret is an ugly thing, like a hidden physical defect. more...

While we are young the idea of death or failure is intolerable to us; even the possibility of ridicule we cannot bear. more...

It is not the visions but the activity which makes you happy, and the joy and glory of the flier is the flight itself. . . Every time I have gone up in an aeroplane and looked down have realized I was free of the ground, I have had the consciousness of a new discovery. "I see:" I have thought, "This was the idea. And now I understand everything." more...

I don't believe in evil; I believe only in horror. In nature there is no evil, only an abundance of horror: the plagues and the blights and the ants and the maggots. more...

What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine? more...

Man reaches the highest point of lovableness at 12 to 17 - to get it back, in a second flowering, at the age of 70 to 90 more...

I beg of you, you good people who want to hear stories told: look at this page and recognize the wisdom of my grandmother and of all old story-telling women! more...

When we are young the idea of death or failure is intolerable to us; even the possibility of ridicule we cannot bear. But we have also an unconquerable faith in our own stars, and in the impossibility of anything venturing to go against us. As we grow old we slowly come to believe that everything will turn out badly for us, and that failure is in the nature of things, but then we do not much mind what happens to us one way or the other. In this way a balance is obtained. more...

If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages ... more...

Where a pack of monkeys had traveled over the road, the smell of them lingered for a long time in the air, a dry and stale, mousy smell. more...

I had seen a herd of Elephant travelling through dense native forest ... pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world. more...

I had seen a herd of Buffalo, one hundred and twenty-nine of them, come out of the morning mist under a copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive, iron-like animals with the mighty horizontally swung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished. more...

The flamingoes are the most delicately colored of all the African birds, pink and red like a flying twig of an oleander bush. They have incredibly long legs and bizarre and recherche curves of their necks and bodies, as if from some exquisite traditional prudery they were making all attitudes and movements in life as difficult as possible. more...

In Africa, when you pick up a book worth reading, out of the deadly consignments which good ships are always being made to carry out all the way from Europe, you read it as an author would like his book to be read, praying to God that he may have it in him to go on as beautifully as he has begun. Your mind runs, transported, upon a fresh deep green track. more...

the true art of the gods is the comic. The comic is a condescension of the divine to the world of man; it is the sublime vision, which cannot be studied, but must ever be celestially granted. In the comic the gods see their own being reflected as in a mirror, and while the tragic poet is bound by strict laws, they will allow the comic artist a freedom as unlimited as their own. more...

death - a passage outside the range of imagination, but within the range of experience. more...

The pleasure of the true dreamer does not lie in the substance of the dream, but in this: that there things happen without any interference from his side, and altogether outside his control. more...

People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. more...

One may take many liberties with God which one cannot take with men. more...

I arrived at the conviction that we should, more easily and more thoroughly than we now do or ever have done, understand the nature and the laws of the Cosmos if we would from the beginning recognize its originator and upholder as being of the female sex. more...

It is often the case with a new idea that when it comes knocking on society's door with modesty and the best premises for its existence, there is a tremendous outcry from inside. more...

It is when people are told their own thoughts that they think they are being insulted. more...

I have before seen other countries, in the same manner, give themselves to you when you are about to leave them ... more...

A poet's mission is to make others confound fiction and reality in order to render them, for an hour, mysteriously happy. more...

There is something strangely determinate and fatal about a single shot in the night. It is as if someone had cried a message to you in one word, and would not repeat it. more...

It is not a bad thing in a tale that you understand only half of it. more...

I belong to an ancient, idle, wild and useless tribe, perhaps I am even one of the last members of it, who for many thousands of years, in all countries and parts of the world, has, now and again, stayed for a time among the hard-working honest people in real life, and sometimes has thus been fortunate enough to create another sort of reality for them, which in some way or another, has satisfied them. I am a storyteller. more...

some travelers are drawn forward by a goal lying before them in the way iron is drawn to the magnet. Others are driven on by a force lying behind them. In such a way the bowstring makes the arrow fly. more...

Truth, like time, is an idea arising from, and dependent upon, human intercourse. more...

One must in this lower world love many things to know finally what one loves the best ... more...

Within our whole universe the story only has the authority to answer that cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: "Who am I?" more...

I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. more...

It is difficult to restrain admirers of Shakespeare once they have begun to speak of him. more...

Do you know...what I think is a great pity? It is this: that we have all become such skeptics that we hardly believe what our pious grandmothers told us. more...

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. more...

Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. more...

Love, with very young people, is a heartless business. We drink at that age from thirst, or to get drunk; it is only later in life that we occupy ourselves with the individuality of our wine. more...

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself. more...

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them. more...

God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road. more...

Who tells a finer tale than any of us. Silence does. more...

I think it will be truly glorious when women become real people and have the whole world open to them. more...

A great artist is never poor. more...

I don't believe in evil, I believe only in horror. In nature there is no evil, only an abundance of horror: the plagues and the blights and the ants and the maggots. more...

Do you know a cure for me?" Why yes," he said, "I know a cure for everything. Salt water." Salt water?" I asked him. Yes," he said, "in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea. more...

You know you are truly alive when you're living among lions. more...

For really, dreaming is the well-mannered people's way of committing suicide. more...

There are things which cannot be carried through even with the good will of everybody concerned more...

When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find out that it is the same in all her music. more...

It is when one begins to lose the consciousness of freedom, and when the idea of necessity enters the world at all, when there is any hurry or strain anywhere, a letter to be written or a train to catch, when you have got to work, to make the horses of the dream gallop, or to make the rifles go off, that the dream is declining, and turning into the nightmare, which belongs to the poorest and most vulgar class of dreams. more...

There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne - bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive. more...

I have a feeling that wherever I may be in the future, I will be wondering whether there is rain at Ngong. more...

A giraffe is so much a lady that one refrains from thinking of her legs, but remembers her as floating over the plains in long garb, draperies of morning mist her mirage. more...

Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one, the majesty coeternal, not two uncreated but one uncreated, and the Natives neither confounded the persons nor divided the substance. more...

There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne - bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive. One only feels really free when one can go in whatever direction one pleases over the plains, to get to the river at sundown and pitch one's camp, with the knowledge that one can fall asleep beneath other trees, with another view before one, the next night. more...

Man and woman are two locked caskets, of which each contains the key to the other. more...

It is little silly to be a caricature of something of which you know very little, and which means very little to you, but to be your own caricature - that is the true carnival! more...

People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. They also know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, but the freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will. more...

through the loveliness and power of her dream world she was now, in her old frock and botched shoes, very likely the loveliest, mightiest and most dangerous person on earth more...

In the Ngong Forest I have also seen, on a narrow path through thick growth, in the middle of a very hot day, the Giant Forest Hog, a rare person to meet. more...

I do not see eye to eye with the camera. more...

Your own self, your personality and existence are reflected within the mind of each of the people whom you meet, ... into a likeness, a caricature of yourself, which still lives on and appears to be, in some way, the truth about you. Even a flattering picture is... a lie. more...

The real difference between God and human beings is that God cannot stand continence. No sooner has he created a season of a year, or a time of day, than he wishes for something quite different and sweeps it all away. And human beings cleave to the existing state of things. All their lives they are striving to hold the moment fast, and are up against a force majeure. Their art itself is nothing but the attempt to catch by all means the one particular moment, one mood, one light, the momentary beauty of one woman or one flower, and make it everlasting. more...

Here and there, in some older houses, old faded daguerreotypes still hang on the walls... They seem to us to be very simple... compared with the artistic and skillful portraits made in later days... Here was a photograph that at one time had been the last word, a very modern portrait... Today it is just a part of cultural history. The small yellowed surface has acquired depth, an admonishing perspective. We hold in our hand a symbol of the structure and ideology of an epoch. more...

There are times of great beauty on a coffee farm. When the plantation flowered in the beginning of the rains, it was a radiant sight, like a cloud of chalk, in the mist of the drizzling rain. more...

I do not think that I could ever really love a woman who had not, at one time or another, been up on a broomstick. more...

I have been trying for a long time to understand God. Now I have made friends with him. To love him truly you must love change, and you must love a joke, these being the true inclinations of his own heart. more...

If there were one more thing I could do, it would be to go on safari once again. more...

Now, looking back on my life in Africa, I feel that it might altogether be described as the existence of a person who had come from a rushed and noisy world, into a still country. more...

To set sail somewhere is more important than life itself. more...

You know you are truly alive when you're living among lions. more...


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