Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Pope

Ok hebbe wy des grote vorfarenheyt,
Wo yd alle dage fuste gheyt.
Hirumme latet jw dyt vor ogen staen,
Wente in korter tyd möthe gy dar an,
De doet sendet jw neenen breff,
He kumpt slyken recht so eyn deff.

De doet.

In dessen dantz essche ick jw alle,
Wo vele juwer ock is in deme talle,
Komet an, gy möthen doch mede,
Altes nicht helpen jw de wedderrede.
Nicht spare ick wer adel efte jöget,
Neen gelth, stath, wyszheyt efte döget.
Weset altomale by tyden bereyt,
Komet alle heer in mynen kreyt.
Ick wyl jw up de erden strecken
Unde ernstlick eynen foeth lenger recken,
He sy olth, junck, arm efte ryke,
Ick neme se mede al ghelyke.
Des mynschen levent is in der jöget
Vorfullet myt sunden unde veler undöget,
Sus spare ick ok nicht jöget, wo yd gha,
Unde dantze sus vore, Folget alle na.



De Doet sprickt vort an
alsus to deme pawese.

De doet

Her pawes, dy mene
ik, wes hastigen rede,
Du holdest up erden
de hoghesten stede,
Eyn vicari Cristi, de
hogheste prelate,
Dantze du vor an
nach dyneme state.
Hefstu dit hilge ampt
wol vorstaen,
So magstu nu frolik
vor den Heren gaen.

Death with scythe
The pope

De pawes

God vorbarme dy o-
ver my, miserere mei,
Maria helpe my und
ok de gracia Dei.
Al byn ick to grotem
stathe uth vorkoren,
So byn ick doch ghe-
west vele vorworen
Der kristen wolfart
betrachten myt flyth.
Here, wes des andech-
tich, yd is nu recht tyd.

The Low German text in the "book" above has been modernized to make it more readable. Click here to read the original text.

we also have great experience with this
how it at all times constantly has happened.
Therefore let it stand before your eyes
because in short time you must [go] there.
Death doesn't send you any letter
he comes sneaking just like a thief.(1)


To this dance I ask you all
no matter how many you are in numbers,
come on - you must still [go] along -
it doesn't help at all to contradict.
I spare neither nobility nor youth,
neither money, rank, wisdom nor virtue.
Be you all prepared in [good] time
come all here into my circle.
I will stretch you on the ground
and earnestly make you one foot longer.(2)
Be he old, young, poor or rich
I take them with [me] - all alike.
Man's life is in the youth
full of sins and many vices
So I don't spare youth either - where it goes,
and thus [I] lead the dance. Follow [me] all.

Death speaks forth and
thus to the pope.


Mr Pope, I mean you, be quickly ready.
You hold on Earth the highest place.
Christ's substitute - the highest prelate.(3)
Dance in front according to your station.
Have you managed your holy office well
then you may now gladly walk before the Lord.

The Pope

Lord, have mercy upon me, miserere mei,(4)
Help me Mary - and also the grace of God.
Though I was chosen to great station
I still have been too busy
to supervise the well-being of Christianity with diligence.
Lord, be aware of this, it is now the right time.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4)

The preacher is quoting the book "Zwiegespräch zwischen Leben und Tod" from ca. 1484:

God sprack mit synem hilgen munde:
Waket unde bedet to aller stunde,
De dod sendet ju neynnen breff,
Mer he kummet slikende alse eyn deff.

See also this note about Death as a sneaking thief.

One foot longer: There are many examples from the same period where Death is known to stretch the dying. In this particular case, it's another quote from "Zwiegespräch zwischen Leben und Tod":

Ik wil dy uppe de erden strecken
Unde eynnen vot lengher recken.

Prelate...: Clergyman of high rank.
Miserere mei...: Miserere mei deus is the beginning of Psalm 51 and means "Have mercy upon me, O God".