Vincent speaks about the sky:

Vincent: But, the sight of the stars always makes me dream. Why I say to myself should those spots of light in the firmament be inaccessible to us? Maybe we can take death to go to a star and to die peacefully of old age would be to go there on foot.

What's the meaning of this last run on sentence?

That's a weird sentence to me, I think it's something like "Maybe we go into the stars when we die, and dying of old age is just getting to the stars slower".

  • Apparently, Van Gogh only wrote 5 letters in English (all the rest were in Dutch or French), and I doubt this cited text is one of those 5. So feasibly something got lost in translation. This "translation" looks very different to yours, and you might find it makes more sense. Sep 25, 2021 at 15:19
  • (I expect Van Gogh was just thinking You go to heaven when you die, and from his pre-Space Age perspective in that context, going to heaven and going to a star would be "the same thing". I very much doubt he was thinking of time dilation caused by travelling at near-lightspeed in spaceships.) Sep 25, 2021 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


This line from the movie (I assume) is adapted from one of Vincent's letters (which Fumblefingers has found)

The meaning is there in the shortened version for the movie, but it is clearer in the full letter. The extra information from the letter is in brackets []

Stars are spots of light [just like towns on a map are spots of black, we can go to towns when we are alive] perhaps our "soul" visits the stars when we are dead. [We can go to a town by rail, horse, or slowly by walking, the quick ways then to get to the stars are diseases like cancer.] Going to the stars by dying of old age is like walking [to a distant town]

It is rather morbid, and melancholic. Van Gogh is known to have had exaggerated mood swings, typical of a bipolar disorder.

Note. That is not a run-on sentence this sentence is a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is not just a long one. It is one that fuses two clauses without a conjunction or proper punctuation.

  • Nice research. You might complete the answer by pointing out how it is not what traditional grammar books call a run-on sentence, one of OP's concerns. Sep 25, 2021 at 17:58
  • Not my research: @fumblefingers did the heavy lifting.
    – James K
    Sep 25, 2021 at 18:08

It is a scrambled metaphor.

It starts by comparing death to a vehicle:

Maybe we can take a ride on the mode of stellar transportation called death to go to the stars.

A bit weird. Then the metaphor changes:

Death has now become the terminal from which we journey to the stars. And travel “by foot” indicates traveling slowly.

If we die of old age, we traveled to the star transit terminal called death the slow way.

So, you got the thought despite how strange the metaphors were.

Maybe we go to the stars when we die, so dying of old age delays the trip.

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