Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Mehr Licht

‘More Light’. Those are reputed to be Goethe’s last words. The simple two-word phrase has an air of profundity, inviting metaphorical interpretation, but other reports say the phrase was actually embedded in a longer sentence of mind-numbing banality: he was just asking someone to open one of the shutters.

Another possibility is that he was saying something else entirely: Goethe apparently spoke with a strong Hessisch accent, and someone from a little town in the area told me he might have been saying ‘Mir liegt hier so schwer…’: a straightforward complaint about how ghastly he was feeling.

But why, anyway, should we care a rancid frankfurter what Goethe’s last words were, when we have so many of the other words he spoke and wrote? Is there any reason someone’s last words should have special significance? Is it not more likely that, being old, tired, ill, indeed dying, he might have said something trivial or even silly?

People’s last words are too often remembered and quoted. At least Goethe didn’t die, like William Pitt, (can’t remember if that’s the elder or the younger), saying ‘I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies’.

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