Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Emperor and the Empress

De keyser

Alle myn stath unde
werdicheyt
Wert nu tho hantes
nedder gheleyt.
Dat maket de alder
gresslikeste doet,
Syn both is starck,
syne macht is groth.
Wo hog ik sy, ick kant
nicht keren.
Gnade my, God, eyn
here aller heren.

The emperor

De keyserynne

Ich,(2) wo rechte wunder-
lyk is my to synne.
Al byn ick eyne ryke
eddele keyserynne,
Nicht en kan ik höger
in stathe rysen,
Ok kan syk neyne gro-
ter forstynne bewysen
In alle desser heelen
cristenheyt,
To sterven bin ik noch
nenerleyewysz bereyt.

The empress
Death on the lion

De doet to dem keyser

Her keyser, du werest
tho eynem heren
Utherkoren, de cristen-
heyt to regeren
Myt dem swerde der
rechtferdicheyt,
De hilge kerke to hol
den in eyndrechticheyt,
De vyende der cristen
myt flyte to haten:
Isset so gescheen, dat
mach dy nu baten.

Death with the spade

De dot tor keyserynnen

Ja, keyserynne, dat is
dat olde leet,
Se spreken alle: Ick byn
noch nicht bereyt,
Beyde yo noch eyne
lange tyd.
Neyn, de forstinnen
unde frouwen, de nu syd,
Dantzen gerne vele
nyer trede.
Holth an, dantze vort
up eyn ander stede.

N.B.: The book should be read from right to left: First Death's admonition, then the answer of the dying person. The translation below is presented in the proper (logical) sequence. The Low German text in the "book" above has been modernized to make it more readable. Click here to read the original text.

Death to the emperor

Mr. Emperor, you were as master
elected, to rule Christianity
with the sword of justice,
to keep the holy churches in concord,
to hate enemies of Christians(1) with diligence:
Has it happened thus, will it help you now.

Death to the empress

Yes, empress, that is the old song,
they all say: "I am not prepared yet,
wait still a long time".
No, the princesses and mistresses, that are now,
willingly dance many new steps.
Hold on! Dance forth to another place.

The emperor

All my rank and worthiness
will now at once be put down.
The most terrible Death makes this,
his command is strong, his power is great.
How high [in state] I might be, I cannot avert this.
Have mercy, God, Lord over all lords.

The empress

Oh,(2) how strange I feel,
Though I am a rich and noble empress.
I cannot rise to a higher station,
and can show no greater princess
in the entire Christendom.
I am not at all prepared to die yet.

Death starts his conversation with the empress with the words: »Se spreken alle: Ick byn noch nicht bereyt« ("they all say: "I am not prepared yet") which is rather strange - considering that the empress hasn't spoken yet.

The words seem to be a reply to »To sterven bin ik noch nenerleyewysz bereyt« ("I am not at all prepared to die yet"), so it appears that Death or the author has forgotten that the reader is supposed to read the right page first.

See the page with the discussion: Is Dodendantz older than Des dodes dantz?.

Footnotes: (1) (2)

If you're wondering who "enemies of Christians" may be, look no further than Des dodes dantz from 1489. In this version Death tells the emperor "Alle unchristen to hebben in hate, Se to vorfolgen..." - so it's the holy duty of the emperor to hate and persecute all non-Christians.
Ich . . .: The word "Ich" doesn't make sense and it's tempting to think it's a typo for "Och". However, the empress also says "Ich" in Des Dodes Dantz, both in the 1489 and the 1496 editions:

Ich wo rechte wunderlyken ys my tho synne.
Al byn ick eyne rike eddele keiserinne […]

In Copenhagen's dance of death she says (in my translation):

Aha, how strange I feel
after all I am a noble empress,


Up to Dodendantz