Lübeck's Dance of Death

Lübeck's dance of death, Empress, cardinal and king
Empress, cardinal and king.

The empress

Ick wet my ment de doet
was ick ny vor vert so grot
Ik mende he si nicht al bi sinne
bin ik doch junck unde ok ein keiserinne
Ik mende ik hedde vele macht
up em hebbe ik ny gedacht
Ofte dat jement dede tegen mi
och lat mi noch leven des bidde ik di
I know, Death means me!
I was never terrified so greatly!
I thought he was not in his right mind,
after all, I am young and also an empress.
I thought I had lots of power,
I had not thought of him
or that anybody could do something against me.
Oh, let me live on, this I implore you!

Death answers the empress

Keiserinne hoch vor meten
my duncket du hest myner vor gheten.
Tred hyr an it is nu de tyt
du mendest ik solde di schelden quit
Nen al werstu noch so vele
du most myt to dessem spele
Unde gi anderen alto male
holt an volge my her kerdenale
Empress, highly presumptuous,
methinks you have forgotten me.
Fall in! It is now time.
You thought I should let you off?
No way! And were you ever so much,
You must participate in this play,
And you others, everybody --
Hold on! Follow me, Mr Cardinal!

The cardinal

Ontfarme myner here salt schen
ik kan deme gensins entflen
Se ik vore efte achter my
ik vole den dot my al tyt by
Wat mach de hoge saet my baten
den ik besat ik mot en laten
Unde werden unwerdiger ter stunt
wen en unreine stinckende hunt
Have mercy on me, Lord, [when it] shall happen.
I can in no way escape it.
[When] I look in front or behind me,
I feel Death by me at all times.
What will the high rank avail me
[the rank] that I had? I must leave it
and become more unworthy at once
than an unclean, stinking dog.

Death answers the cardinal

Du werest van state gelike
en apostel godes up ertryke
Umme den kersten loven to sterken
myt worden unde anderen dogentsammen werken.
Men du hest mit groter hovardichit
up dinen hogen perden reden
Des mostu sorgen nu de mere
Nu tret ok vort her konningck here
You were in status equal to
an apostle of God on earth,
in order to strengthen the Christian belief
with words and other good works.
But you have, with great haughtiness,
been riding your high horse.
Therefore you most mourn so much more now!
Now step here in front you too, Mr King!

The king

O dot dyne sprake heft my vorvert
Dussen dans en hebbe ik nicht gelert
Hertogen rydder unde knechte
Dragen vor my durbar gerichte
Unde juwelik hodde sick de worde
To sprekende de ick node horde
Nu komstu unvorsenlik
Unde berovest my al myn ryk
Oh Death, your speech has terrified me,
this dance I have never learned.
Dukes, knights and servants
bring expensive courses to me
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 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
Den armen niegene bedwank
Her bischop nu holt an de hant
All your thoughts you had turned
to worldly splendour.
What's the use? You must into the earth
and be shaped like me.
Justice turned and twisted
have you let reign under you,
showing the poor no pity!
Mr Bishop, hold on to my hand now.

This is the end of the fragment in Tallinn.

Notice the special structure of the verses: Death answers each human with 7 lines and in the 8th line Death calls the next dancer. In this manner the verses are chained together - like the dancers who are holding hands in the chain dance. This may sound like an obvious ploy but apart from the Spanish Danza General de la Muerte this structure is only found in the painting in Lübeck / Tallinn.


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