Lübeck's Dance of Death

The King and the Duke

De konnynck

De doet kumpt to my
sunder frage.
Ach, mochte ick yd set-
ten myt öm in dage,
Hundert yar unde meer
scholde yd staen,
Eer he my eyn yawo-
rd scholde aff gaen.
Al mynes rykes raet,
rydders unde manss
Neen gheyt vor my
in dessen dantz.

The king

De hertoch

Dyt hadde ik ernstlik
vaken ghewroken,
De my susz hadde to-
Men nu moth ik heb-
ben paciencie,
Wente my wroget seer
myne conciencie,
De doet kumpt heer
seer unghehür,
Ick moth vort, yd sy
lucke efte effentür.

The duke
Death on the lion

De doet tome konninck

Her konninck, hochghe-
boren, eddel und ryk,
Dantze myt, du werst
nu myn ghelyk.
Dyt behoret dyneme
stathe, merke my,
Rechtferdich to wesen,
barmhertich dar by.
Isset so van dy unde
den dynen ghescheen,
So wert dy God gne-
dichlyken anseen.

Death with the spade

De doet tome hertogen

Hochgheboren herto-
ge van eddelem slechte -
Sus hebben di heten di-
ne ridders unde knechte -
Men ik wil dy anders
to spreken:
Holth an, ik wil dyn
herte tobreken.
De denne is rede, heft
God ghesecht,
Wan he ön esschet,
salich is de knecht.

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 king

Mr King - highborn, noble and rich;
dance along - you'll now become my equal.
It's a part of your station - mark my [words] -
to be fair - and merciful besides.
Has it happened thus for you and yours
then God will look mercifully at you.

Death to the duke

Highborn duke of noble lineage,
so have they called you - your knights and servants,
but I will speak differently to you:
Hold on! I will break your heart.(1)
since it is ready - God has said [so].
When he asks him - the servant is blessed.

The king

Death comes to me without question.
Alas, might I postpone it with him.
A hundred years and more it should take
before he should get a yes-word of me.
All my kingdom, counsel, knights and men
No one goes before me in this dance.

The duke

This I had earnestly often avenged
[those] that had spoken thus to me.
But now I must have patience
for my conscience blames me much.
Death comes here very unruly.
I must [go] forth - be it luck or danger.

Footnotes: (1)

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

Neen, ik wyl dy noch anders spreken,
Ick wil dy dyn herte thobreken.