Tallinn: The Preacher

The preacher in Tallinn

The preacher to all

Och redelike creatuer sy arm ofte ryke
Seet hyr dat spegel(2) junck unde olden
Unde dencket hyr aen ok elkerlike
Dat sik hyr nemant kan ontholden
Wanneer de doet kumpt als gy hyr seen
Hebbe wi den vele gudes ghedaen
So moghe wi wesen myt gode een
Wy(3) moten van allen loen untfaen
Unde lieven kynder ik wil ju raden
Dat gi juwe scapeken verleiden nicht
Men gude exempel en op laden
Eer ju de doet sus snelle bi licht(4)

Creatures of reason, rich and poor,
Young and old, each and all
See the mirror laid before
And think that Death is bound to call
To everyone, as you will find.
We become one with the Lord
By doing good, so keep in mind
Your every deed has its reward.
And I advise you, children dear,
Do not lead your flock astray,
But before your Death appears
A good example do display.

English version © Jack Freckleton-Sturla, 2021. The following is a more literal translation:

The preacher to all

Oh, rational creature(1), be you poor or rich.
See here the mirror(2), young and old,
and consider also, each of you,
that nobody can stay away,
when Death comes, as you see here.
Have we then made much good,
then we can become one with God.
We(3) shall receive reward for everything.
And dear children, I will advise you,
that you do not lead your lambs astray,
but show a good example,
before Death so quickly stands by you!(4)

The start in Lübeck
The introduction on the painting from 1701
The red area indicates the beginning of the dance in the chapel in Lübeck
The red area shows the location in the chapel

The photo and the text are taken from the fragment in Tallinn. Presumably Lübeck's original painting from 1463 also started with a preacher - like it does in most other dances of death and in the books that were published, based on Lübeck's dance of death.

Wortmann's copy from 1701 started with a solemn admonition (see picture to the left). You can see the painting here: Lübeck.

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

Rational creature . . .: See the page about Adam, Eve and the original sin.
The word has formerly been read as "spectel" i.e. spectacle, but after the restoration one can see, that it says "spegel".

See this page about the dance of death as a mirror.

Wy / We. . .: most experts read the text as "Wy", but in fat the "W" doesn't resemble the corresponding letter a bit earlier in "Wanneer".

In the reprint of Der Todtentanz in der Marienkirche zu Lübeck, Freytag prefers to write "Gy", which is similar to Middle English "Ye". In that case the text should be translated into: »You shall receive reward for everything«.

There is plenty of space between the words »bi licht« to suggest as an alternative explanation that the original word was »bislicht«, just like in chapter 3 in the introduction to Des dodes dantz:

… Wo syk welke mynschen to steruen beklaghen
Vnde wo de doet eynen isliken grypt by dem kraghen
Vnde wo he sus vns allen beslickt

… … the way many people complain about dying,
and how Death grasps everyone by the throat,
and how he thus sneaks up upon us all …

Death as a sneaking thief is a regular theme.