What does the following phrase mean?

I can't go on, I'll go on.

And is it an idiom or not? I've found it in a Gogol Bordello song. The text is in Forces of Victory.

  • It's a famous line from a Beckett play. Grammatically it is entirely correct and unidiomatic...if you replace the comma with a period. If you keep the comma, your English teacher/newspaper editor would call it a comma splice
    – Mitch
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 14:43
  • This happens to be a very familiar expression in my family, spoken usually with a kind of stoic calm. The meaning, as we use it, is that a particular situation may seem unbearable, but that we will bear it by bearing it. The underlying point is that what seems unbearable and what is unbearable are two different things.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


It is not an idiom but a quotation from the end of the Samuel Beckett novel The Unnamable. It suggests a determination to overcome impossibility.


The meaning I take is "I cannot but I must". It describes an internal conflict or dilemma where the only possible course of action is one which is extremely objectionable or difficult. There may be a conflict of morals/ethics and duty, fatalism towards the outcome of an important action, or some other conflict.

I've never heard of this particular phrase as an idiom, however. I would think of "rock and a hard place", "between Scylla and Charybdis" or "irresistible force meeting an immovable object" or as more idiomatic.

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