Old Age – Taken apart by Goethe

I visited a museum in Weimar. There was a quote from Goethe. ‘Ich bin zu alt um nur zu spielen, und zu jung um ohne Wunsch zu sein.’

Goethe bust in Weimar

The greatest lines can be an inspiration to writers and get the block out the way.

‘I am too old to only play and too young to be without desire.’

It works better in English (for me), because I can pep it up a bit in translation, to make it stronger. I’ve replaced Wunsch. which means <wish> with <desire>. Goethe couldn’t use desire in German. Lust sounds too coarse. Is this allowed? As Heinrich Böll said, ‘You put it out there, you lose control of what people do with it’. I call it, artistic licence. Goethe would be furious.

That one sentence by Goethe is the perfect description of the contradiction of getting old, made more poignant by the fact that Goethe made a complete fool of himself by proposing to a woman 50 years younger than he. She and her mother, fled town without sending a response, just to make sure that he understood the answer was ‘NO!’

I worked his line up to describe how I feel about old age.

 What Goethe Meant
 Goethe wrote, ‘Ich bin zu alt um nur zu spielen,
 und zu jung um ohne Wunsch zu sein‘.
 I am too old to only play,
 Too young to be without desire.
 Too old to tumble in the hay
 Too young to quench my residual fire.
 Too old to miss my midday nap,
 Too young to never think of straying,
 Too old for hormones to cause a flap,
 Too young to stop my eye surveying.
 Too old to pass an empty trap,
 Too young to stop believing,
 Too old to play with ball or bat,
 Too young to trickle when relieving.
 Too old to worry what comes next,
 Too young to admit my leaving,
 Too old to bother to get vexed,
 Too young to start my grieving.
 Too old to think we can live forever,
 Too young to concede this cannot last,
 Too old to want some new endeavour,
 Too young to wallow in the past.  
 Old enough to know those amazing years
 Are in life’s bank, secure and undeniable,
 Young enough to sup life’s remaining beers,
 And pretend the last few years, aren't so friable. 
One of Goethe’s many study objects

I always feel I have to apologise for rhyming, but the rhythm in Goethe’s line, (Ich bin zu alt um nur zu spielen, und zu jung um ohne Wunsch zu sein.) seduces one to keep it, and Goethe always rhymed. It’s not good to compare oneself with one of the great masters, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Published by Clive La Pensée

Clive La Pensée, ex-science teacher, recognised writer on history of beer, novelist, expressionist, dreamer, believer in never giving up, empathiser, hopeful for a future without class, gender or racial prejudice. It's tough and at the moment, one has to remember distance travelled, rather than where we are at.

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