Tallinn: The king

The king in Tallinn
The king

The king

O dot dyn sprake heft my vorvert
Dussen dans en hebbe ik niht gelert
Hertogen rydder unde knechte
Dragen(2) vor my durbar gerichte
Unde jwelick hodde sick de worde
To sprekende de ik node horde
Nu komstu unvorsenlik
Unde berovest my al myn ryk

Death, your words do scare me so!
This dance of yours I do not know.
Dukes, knights, and servants plenty
Served me dishes rich and dainty.
Those below me did not word
What I disliked and wished unheard.
Unexpectedly you’ve come
To rob me of my royal dom.

Death answers the king

Al dynne danken heftu geleyt
Na werliker herlicheyt
Wat batet du most in den slik
Werden geschapen myn gelik
Recht gewent unde vorkeren
Heftu under dy laten reigeren(3)
Den armen [in] egene bedwank(4)
Her bischop nu holt an de hant

All your thoughts you chose to bend
To vain splendour. To what end?
You must now into the soil.
Become like me, degrade and spoil.
Your kingdom’s era bears the stain
Of injustice, and the shame
Of cruel acts to those in need.
Bishop, follow now your betters’ lead.

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

The king

Oh Death, your speech has terrified me,
this dance I have never learned.(1)
Dukes, knights and servants
bring expensive courses to me(2)
and everybody took care, words
to speak, that I didn't want to hear.
Now you come unexpected,
and bereaves me of my entire kingdom!

Death to the king

All your thoughts you had turned
to worldly splendour.
What's the use? You must into the earth
and be shaped like me.
Justice turning and twisting
have you let reign under you.(3)
The poor you have suppressed.(4)
Mr Bishop, hold on to my hand now.

The red area shows the location in the chapel in Lübeck
The red area shows the location in the chapel
The painting in St. Mary's Church in Lübeck.
Lübeck #2

The king and "his" Death are on a separate canvas, which was in a very bad condition before the restoration. It's very easy to see where the two canvasses are joined to the left of the king: The landscape doesn't fit together and gives the impression that a piece is missing. This is not the case, however, since the text-scrolls beneath the painting are intact.

The King in Lübeck, on the other hand, was located last on the east wall before the corner of the wall (pictured right). If we assume that the same was true of the original painting from 1463 — a reasonable assumption since the new painting from 1701 was set in the old frames, one must assume that the seam has been after the king inside the corner. This is further proof that the fragment in Tallinn is not a remnant of the painting from Lübeck.

It looks like the king is raising his sceptre as a baton to lead this part of the procession.

This is the end of the fragment in Tallinn. The rest of the dance will be illustrated with photos of the dance in Lübeck.

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

Here is a parallel to the king in La Danse Macabre, who hasn't learned this dance either: "Ie nay point apris a danser / A danse et note si savaige" (I have never learned to dance, to a dance and notes so savage.)

dragen . . .: small differences can have big effects.

For many years, the word has been read as »dagen« and interpreted as negotiations (as in German "Reichstag") The "durbar gerichte" was then interpreted as important but complicated negotations to be settled by the king.

On the other hand, Hartmut Freytag has spotted a small R-abbreviation, so the word is »dragen«, to carry / to bring, and thus it is no longer a matter of court disputes, but dinner dishes (both words are "Gerichte" in modern German).

The text is not very clear. The king has allowed the twisting of justice to reign.

The text is defective. It says "in egene bedwank" or "ni egene bedwank"

That was how Russwurm read it, and his best shot was: "the poor in your own [countries] have you suppressed". Gotthard von Hansen gave up, and just wrote a question mark: "den Armen in — ? —".

Seelmann and Stammler have read it as "Den armen niegene leed want", i.e. that the king hasn't averted any suffering from the poor.

Freytag reads it as ".. egene bedwank" and suggests that the king has suppressed the poor, as were they serfs (German: "Leibeigene"). This solution demands a lot from the two missing letters ("in" or "ni").