Lübeck's Dance of Death

Journeyman and Wet Nurse with Child

De dot to der ammen

Amme, kum heer myt
deme kynde,
Ik neme den werd
myt deme ghesynde,
De suster, den broder,
myt alle den gesten,
Olth, yunck, quaden
unde ock de besten.
God, dede wonet in
den hogesten tronen,
Wyl yslyken recht na
den werken lonen.

Death with spade
The nurse with child

De amme unde kynt

Ach, greselyke doet,
schone dessem kynde,
Dat ick hir in de döke
Ach ick behelde dyt
kynt gantz gerne.
Ach schone ok my ar-
men derne,
Ach wyl my noch le-
ven laten,
Wat kan dy dat scha-
den efte baten?

De dot to dem amptghesellen unde ander yungelyngen

God sprickt myt synem hilgen munde:
Waket unde bedet to aller stunde!
De dot sendet jw nenen breff,
He kumpt slyken recht so eyn deff.
Hir umme, amptgheselle, holt an de hanth,
Du most myt in eyn ander lanth.

De amptgheselle

Wat lanth, wat lanth schal ick nu wanderen?
Ik quam nu kortes van westen uth Flanderen.
Nu kumpstu, dot, vort yagen myt macht,
Up dy hebbe ik noch nicht ghedacht.
Ik gynge lever to kroge myt mynen kumpanen
To der Wytten Ulen efte to deme Roden Hanen.

Int besluth sprickt de dot alsus

Death with scythe

Tredet alle heer,
papen,ock gy leyen,
Ick wyl jw alle umme
Myt desser setzen, grot
unde kleyne.
Myt rechtem ernste
ik jw alle meyne.
Myn anslach is myt
groter hast,
So wene ik fate, den
holde ick fast.
Dantzet mede, ick syn-
ge vorhen,

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 journeyman and other young men(1)

God speaks with His holy mouth:
Watch and pray - at all times!
Death does not send you any letter
he comes sneaking just like a thief.(2)
Therefore journeyman, hold on to the hand,
you must along into another land.

Death to the wet nurse

Nurse! come here with the child;
I take the host [together] with the servants
the sister, the brother with all the guests;
old, young, bad and also the best.
God, who lives in the highest throne
will reward everybody justly [according to their] labour.

The journeyman

What land? What land shall I now wander [to]?
I came straight from the west from Flanders.
Now you come, Death, rushing forth with force;
I had not thought of you yet.
I would rather go to inns with my companions -
to The White Owl or to The Red Rooster.(3)

The wet nurse and child

Alas, terrible Death - spare this child
whom I here wrap in the sheet.
Alas, I would quite well like to keep the child.
Alas, spare me too - I poor girl.
Alas, let me live still,
what could it hurt or benefit you?

Finally Death speaks thus:

Step all here, clergymen, also you laymen;
I will mow you all down
with this scythe - great and small -
with right earnest I mean you all.(4)
My strike is with great haste
so whom I get hold of, I hold on to.
Dance along - I'll lead the song....

This is what the journeyman (and the nobleman) looked like in Des dodes Dantz.
The journeyman from Des Dodes Dantz

The journeyman appears to be widely traveled. In medieval Europe it was normal for young craftsmen who had completed their apprenticeship to wander around from country to country, "on the walz", for two or three years. The English word journeyman might refer to this custom, but it is also possible that "journey" in this case means "a day's work".

There's no picture of the journeyman. In Des dodes dantz the picture of the journeyman was the same as that of the nobleman (picture to the left).

Due to the jumbled layout of Dodendantz one might get the impression that the journeyman is the last dancer. However there is little doubt that the nurse and child are the last: Firstly because the child is always the last, secondly because Dodendantz is supposed to be read from right to left, and thirdly because the journeyman's thoughts go the taverns that he's already longing for: The White Owl and The Red Rooster. You can't let a moral play end with the last dancer reminiscing about pubs.

In Copenhagen's dance of death the Danish translator has become confused by the layout and placed the child before the journeyman. As a result the translator has "censured" the journeyman's lines, so the last dancer's last words isn't on the subject of pubs.

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

You may wonder why Death speaks to "the journeyman and other young men" i.e. several people, but this goes to show that the dance of death is a mirror, in which as many as possible should be able to reflect themselves.
Death is quoting from 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.

In spite of many visits to Lübeck I have never succeeded in finding these two pubs. They seem to have been closed down. :-(

Historical maps mark a "Roter Hahn" in Fleischhauerstraße (between Breitestraße and Königstraße).

"To der Wytten Ulen" has probably no relation to Bierbar UHU, which is located next to Lübeck's central railway station.

The first lines of Death's final speech are taken from chapter 4 — i.e. the beginning — of Des dodes dantz: »Komet alle hêr, papen unde ôk gi leien, Ik wil ju alle mit desser setzen ummemeien. […] Mit rechtem ernste ik ju altomalen mene«.