Lübeck's Dance of Death

The dance of death, part 8
Suhl, part 8: Young man, maiden and baby.

der Tod

Ihr Nymphen, die ihr hie den frischen Iüngling schaut
Wünscht ihr vielleicht durch ihn zu heissen Iungfer Braut?
Umsonst; die Rechnung wird euch mit einander triegen,
Ich werd ihn in der That, ihr in Gedanken kriegen.

XLIV. Death to the Young Man.

Ye maids, that lov'd this sprightly youth,
Are disappointed, that's the truth;
Your wishes, fair, were all in vain;
He's mine, and I'll my right maintain.

der Iüngling

So soll ich an den Tanz, wer hatte das gedacht;
Ich, der ich manches Schloß, doch in der Luft gemacht,
Nun wird mein Hoffnungsbau fein zeitig eingerissen,
Ich wollte bald die Braut und muß die Mutter küssen.

XLV. The Young Man's answer.

Pray, Mr. Death, I'm young and gay,
The time of life for sport and play;
Indeed, I think you're full too soon,
To stop me in my course at noon;
My pleasing hopes and lofty schemes
Must all dissolve in idle dreams;
No bride to clasp within my arms,
And softly soothe me with her charms.
Grim Death commands, I must obey,
And mingle quick with parent clay.

der Tod

Ich halte wie die Welt von Complimenten nicht,
Muß heißt mein hartes Wort, das Stahl und Eisen bricht,
Und warum wolt ihr mir den letzten Tanz versagen?
Die Iungfern pflegen sonst kein Tänzgen abzuschlagen.

XLVI. Death to the Maiden.

Come, pretty maid, and dance with me,
I use no compliments, you see;
I say, I hate your complaisance,
So once more come with me and dance;
I've chose you for my partner, miss;
Nay, be not so surpriz'd at this,
I do not always love old age,
You'll make some figure on my stage.

die Iungfrau

Ich folge weil ich muß und tanze wie ich kan,
Ihr Schwestern wählet euch bey Zeiten einen Mann:
So reichet ihr die Faust dem Bräutigam im Leben,
Die ich dem Tode muß, doch halb gezwungen geben.

XLVII. The Maiden's answer.

Since I must go, O sisters dear,
Choose you a partner, for fear
This grim-ey'd monster, when I die,
Should like more of our family:
For sure I think it much amiss,
To give to him my virgin kiss.

der Tod

Nim zarter Säugling an den frühen Sensenschlag
Und schlaf hernach getrost bis an den Iüngstentag.
Wohl dem, der so wie du fällt in des Todes Hände,
So kröhnt den Anfang dann so ein beglücktes Ende.

XLVIII. Death to the Infant:

Thus, tender suckling, I must give
The untimely stroke, no longer live;
Sleep undisturb'd till the last day,
When Christ shall change thy mass of clay,
Like his most glorious body dear,
Give thee a heavenly crown to wear:
Ah ! happy they beyond expression,
Who've paradise for their possession.

Das Wiegenkind

Weinen ist meine erste Stimm,
Mit Weinen war ich gebohren,
Mit Weinen trägt man mich wieder dahin,
Den Würmern zur Speis erkohren.

XLIX. The Infant's answer.

Crying, indeed, was my first voice,
But now I've cause for to rejoice;
Bear me, ye angels, to my God,
I've 'scap'd both sin, death, hell, and rod.(1)



The English translations are those of Thomas Nugent.
Nugent adds two more dancers: the dancing-master and the fencing-master.

The maid by Milde. Death holds up the false sleeve.
Milde, Maid
The maid by Suhl. The false sleeve floats in the air
Suhl, Maid

On this last engraving, Suhl deviates in several ways from the painting. Firstly because Death to left of the young man has his arm behind the young man's arm, and secondly because the cradle doesn't have any rockers. Compare with Milde's version.

For the longest time I thought the maid wore a long stick on her head with some sort of red pompon at the end (picture to the left). Ludewig Suhl shows clearly that the hair is adorned by some sort of feather, which in no way touches the false sleeve that Death is holding up. As the picture shows, false sleeves (German: Zierärmel / Scheinärmel) can be quite long and attached to the back.

On the other hand, Suhl forgets to draw Death's arm, so the false sleeve is hanging suspended in the air for no obvious reason (compare with Suhl's original watercolour).

The child didn't have any speech in the painting.
The text on the painting

As the picture to the left shows, the voiceless child did not have a speaking part. In danse macabre in Paris the child paradoxically says that it doesn't know how to speak: »A. a. a. ie ne scay parler«, but in Lübeck there is no text at all. Below the cradle was just the date of the new painting: »Anno 1701 im May«.

The different book publishers must have felt a need for a proper finale, so in his book from 1701, Schlott writes: »WEinen ist meine Stimme gewest. Sap. VII,3«. This is a quote from the Wisdom of Solomon 7:3: »And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do«.

Pastor Melle was more versed in the Bible and added the missing word, "erste": »Weinen ist meine erste Stimme gewest. Sap. 7/3.«. Nugent apparently used a similar source that included this word: »Crying, indeed, was my first voice«.

Suhl lets the child have the last word.
Suhl's text

The record goes to Suhl (picture to the right), who allocated a full verse with four lines to the child: »Weinen ist meine erste Stimm / Mit Weinen war ich gebohren, / Mit Weinen trägt man mich wieder dahin, / Den Würmern zur Speis erkohren«.

These four lines, which we see neither in the painting nor in Schlott's own publications, are in fact a good deal older than Schlott. They go back to at least 1625, and they appear both as a separate quote and as a verse in the hymn "Ich weiss mir ein ewig's Himmelreich" (I know (for me) an eternal heavenly kingdom).

Schlott's new dance of death wasn't popular. In "Bücherkunde der sassisch-niederdeutschen Sprache", 1826, Karl Friedrich A. Scheller compares the old Low German verses with Schlott's text from 1701. His sentence is: "The remnants of the Saxon's verses reveal a healthy, unrestrained, somewhat biting wit, and the language has purity and dignity. Schlott gives us instead rigid, quirky wares, or in fact nothing at all".(2)

Scheller goes on to quote the two verses that popular legend has added to the child in the old text: »O Dot, wo schal ik dat vorstan?« and then »Das (Schlottsche) Wiegenkind«, which are the four lines we have just discussed. Based on this, Scheller concludes: "Could not this old poem have been made complete? Not even if Mr. Nathanael Schlott were washed away or scraped off gently during a new restauration? I for my part would do it, also if no Saxon letters were any longer to be found under them".(3)

Scheller was willing to remove Schlott's text from the painting whether or not the old text was to be found beneath. Apparently he was not aware that the painting was a new copy created by Anton Wortmann. And Scheller based his arguments on comparing 2 lines, that probably never were to be found on the old painting, with four lines, that Schlott had nothing to do with, and which had been written long before Schlott was born.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

sin, death, hell, and rod.....: Smart kid! It seems like he's quoting Proverbs 23:13-14, "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. ".
Karl Friedrich A. Scheller: »Die Überbleibsel der Sassischen Verse verrathen einen gesunden, ungezwungenen, etwas beißigen Witz, und die Sprache hat Reinheit und Würde. Schlott giebt uns dafür steife, verschrobene Waare, oder eigentlich gar nichts«.
(Bücherkunde der sassisch-niederdeutschen Sprache, 1826, page 76)
Karl Friedrich A. Scheller: Sollte dies alte Gedicht denn gar nicht zu ergänzen sein? Auch nicht, wenn bei einer neuen Auffrischung Herr Nathanael Schlott weggewaschen oder behutsam abgeschabt würde? Ich meines Theils würde es thun, und wenn auch kein Sassischer Buchstabe mehr darunter zu finden wäre.
(Bücherkunde der sassisch-niederdeutschen Sprache, 1826, page 76)