Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Craftsman and the Student

De amptman

Ach neen, ick befruch-
te my in velen saken,
Mochte ick leven, ick
wolde yd beter maken.
Ick hebbe yo myn
ampt wol ghelerd,
Mynen gyldebröderen
was ik ok lef unde werd.
Dat my doch de doth
lenger leven lethe
Wat schade öm dath
unde myne fruwen Grete.

The craftsman

De studente

Non non, expectate,
yd is noch neen tyd.
Ik hebbe studeret myt
grotem flyd,
Vaken hebbe ik ghekre-
gen scharpe correccien,
So wan ik yo vorsume-
de de leccien
Mochte ick appelleren,
de doth deyth my wee,
Ach leyder, neen, dat
is impossibile.

The student
A skullYet another skull

Death on the lion

Another skull

De dot tom amptman

Mester amptman, hefstu
myt truwen ghewerket,
So kumpstu nu int
rechte market,
Nicht myt loszheyt
schon vor ogen,
Bynnen feyl unde so
Bystu ock truwe ghe-
west myt allem flyd,
Dat belonet God nu
unde ock to ewyger tyd.

De dot to dem studenten

Her domine efte Johan-
nes, wo dyn name ist,
De dot gyft dy nicht
lenger fryst.
Eyn yunck man schal
by tyden leren
To denen Gode, syneme
Hefstu dat ok so myt
flyte gheleret,
So werstu nu ewich-
lyken gheeret.

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 craftsman

Master Craftsman - have you worked with honesty,
then you'll now come into the right market;
not with deceit - beautiful to the eye
[but] bad inside - and thus deceived.
Have you also been honest with all diligence -
that will God reward now - and also in eternity.

Death to the student

Mr. Domine(2) or Johannes - whatever your name is,
Death gives you no longer respite.
A young man shall in [good] time learn
to serve God - his Lord.
Have you also learned this with diligence -
then you will now be eternally honoured.

The craftsman

Alas no, I am afraid for many affairs;
might I live, [then] I would make it better.
After all - I have learned my craft well;
I was also dear and valued to my guild brothers.
If only Death [would] let me live longer
what would it hurt him and my wife, Grete?(1)

The student

Non non, expectate,(3) it is not yet time.
I have studied with great diligence -
often I have received sharp correccien,
like when I neglected leccien.
Might I appeal - Death causes me pain,
Alas unfortunately no, that is impossibile.

There is no hilly landscape behind the student.

The printer has encountered a problem, since the image of Death with arrow had disappeared between 1489 and 1520, and so he only had three woodcuts of Death. Instead he has filled up the empty space with the three little skulls from the title page. For details: See the page about Making your own dance of death.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

Timothy Sodmann puts commas around "what would it hurt him", so the meaning becomes, "What would it hurt Death to let me and my wife Grete live?".

These commas are not in the original, so a literal reading is: What would it hurt Death and my wife Grete to let me live?". I don't know if the author deliberate made the sentence ambiguous.

domine...: Dominus is Latin for "master".
Non non, expectate...: Latin for "no, no, wait!".
correccien...: Latin for "reprimands".
leccien...: Latin for "lessons".
impossibile...: Latin for "impossible" (that was easy :-)