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I have seen "To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot" {a translation to English from the original} and can't get the exactly meaning of them.

I know what's the meaning of 'To die quietly of old age' but not the meaning of the full sentence.

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    Hi Juan...this seems like a very interesting quote, but could you possibly provide some more context? To me at least, it seems like a paraphrase of another quote, possibly a poem? Think Dylan Thomas. – Cascabel Oct 25 at 20:37
  • Hi Cascabel, I found them out of context. As a sample of a sentence using the expression 'on foot' on a collins dictionary. That's why I can't understand the full meaning. – Juan Antonio Tubío Oct 25 at 20:57
  • Well, David M has finally tracked down the source of the quote, as well as the rest of the context, and provided a reasonable explanation. The 2 answers now actually conflict. – Cascabel Oct 26 at 19:09
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    @JuanAntonioTubío - just to be clear, this is not a "figure of speech" or "standard phrase" in English. It's just a one-off piece of writing. (In fact from Van Gogh.) (It very simply means, dying of old age is a "slow way to go" (as opposed to say being shot, getting a disease, etc.)) – Fattie Oct 26 at 21:29
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Here is the rest of the quote in a letter by Van Gogh:

So it doesn't seem impossible to me that cholera, gravel, pleurisy & cancer are the means of celestial locomotion, just as steam-boats, omnibuses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

Basically, Van Gogh is saying that it's very possible that disease states are fast ways to reach death akin to riding on a locomotive, bus, or steam-boat to a final destination. But, dying of old age is getting there slowly as if walking there on foot.

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    This was my first thought reading the HNQ title too, I like anastrophe but this really isn't it – cat Oct 26 at 20:49
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    Note that this is a translation (what is gravel?). The original seems to have been French, though Vincent van Gogh usually wrote to his brother Theo in Dutch – Henry Oct 26 at 21:53
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    @Henry Gravel is kidney stones. – David M Oct 26 at 23:41
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    Clicking through the link reveals even more context: the "there" in the quote refers to a star in the night sky. – Nathaniel Oct 27 at 15:28
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    @Nathaniel Yes. Death as a means to reach the stars. – David M Oct 27 at 15:32
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"To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot" is a less straightforward, more lyrical phrasing. It inverts the expected structure, which would be:

"To go there on foot would be to die quietly of old age."

The meaning of the sentence is that the journey would take so long on foot that a person would die before they reached the destination. The inversion here is a stylistic choice, also called anastrophe.

This link has some good examples of inversion, such as:

"To me alone there came a thought of grief" from Huckleberry Finn. A standard form of this same sentence would be "a thought of grief came to me alone."

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    It might be helpful to slightly edit this answer to point out that this could be the meaning of the sentence. Other meanings are possible, as, for instance, when it was originally written: webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/506.htm?qp=health.impotence – Juhasz Oct 25 at 21:27
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    In fact, this is not the meaning of the sentence, as @DavidM's answer makes clear. – TonyK Oct 26 at 17:25
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    This is all wrong. Completely, totally, wrong – Fattie Oct 26 at 21:30
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    I must say I agree with @Fattie here. – TonyK Oct 26 at 23:13
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    Even without context I would have interpreted this quotation as in the other answer. – David K Oct 27 at 16:28

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