Lübeck's Dance of Death

Lübeck's dance of death, Youth, maiden and baby
Youth, maiden and baby.
The chapel

Death answers the peasant

Grot Arbeit hefstu ghedan,
God wil di nicht vorsman,
Mit dinem Arbeide unde Not,
It is recht, ik segge di blot,
God wilt di betalen,
In sinen oversten Salen.
Vruchte nicht en Twink,
Tret her Jungelink.
Great work have you done.
God will not disdain you
with your work and toil.
It is right, I'm just saying it,
God will reward you
in His highest hall.
Do not fear for a twinkling.
Step over here, youth.

The youth

Der Werlde Lust mi nu smaket,
Do hefst de Tyt ovel raket,
Du kumpst slikende her geghan,
Unde wult mi in din Nette beslan.
De Werlde mi lavet Heil,
Bedrucht se mi, so is se feil.
Wike wech, late mi ruseleren,
Int Older wil ik mi bekeren.
I can taste the temptations of the world now.
You have chosen the time badly.
You come here, sneaking,
and want to catch me in your net.
The world has promised me luck,
and if it disappoints me, then it's deceitful.
Go away, let me have fun,
I my older days, I'll convert.

Death answers the youth

In der Nacht der Deve Gank
Slikende is min Ummewank,
En junk Man sik bi Tiden ker
To Gade, sin Luste dregen her.
Hir is nene blivende Stat,
Haddestu west der Werlde hat,
Were di beter, unde er minne,
Junkvrow, mit di ik danssen beghinne.
In the night the thieves walk.
I sneak around.(1)
A young man [should ]in [good] time turn himself
to God; his own lusts deceive him.
Here is no continuing city(2).
Had you been hated by the world,
it would be better for you than its love.(3)
Maiden, I'm beginning to dance with you.

The maiden

Des Reiges were ik onich gherne
Ik junghe schone Derne,
Ik merke der Werlde Lust,
Van diner Kumpst nicht gewust.
Nu kumpstu snel, unde mi vorverst,
Ik wuste nicht, hir werst.
Were ik ene Kloster Vrowe worden,
So trede ich vro in dinen Orden.
I would rather be without this (chain)dance
I young beautiful girl.
I feel the temptations of the world.
I did not know of your arrival.
Now you're coming quickly and terrify me.
I didn't know, you were here.
Had I become a nun
then I would gladly step into your order.

This is the end of the text copied by Jacob von Melle in 1701. The oral tradition has two lines more:

The baby

O Dot, wo schal ik dat vorstan?
Ik schal danssen unde kan nicht ghan
Oh Death, how shall I understand this ?
I must dance and I cannot walk.

Lübeck from the west side; click to see the entire picture.
Lübeck from the west side
Death with scythe.
Death with scythe

Notice, that now one can see Lübeck from the west side behind the maiden.

It's hard to see on the photo, but between the maiden and the baby, Death is swinging his scythe. The picture to the right is taken from another angle which makes it easier to see.

The words of the children are reminiscent of those from the English dance of death from the chapel at St. Paul's Cathedral in London:

A a a, a worde I can not speke
I am so γonge;, I was bore γisterdai
.. ..
I cam but now, and now I go my wai

The maid by Milde.
Milde, Maid
The maid by Suhl.
Suhl, Maid

For the longest time I thought the maid wore a long stick on the 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.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

In the night the thieves walk...: With this quote from the Bible, Death reveals that he comes not as a destroyer, but as a messenger from God. Compare with 1st Thessalonians 5:2, "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." and Job 24:14, "The murderer rising with the light killeth the poor and needy, and in the night is as a thief".

More details about Death as a sneaking thief and the day of the Lord on this page.

Hebrews 13:14, "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come".
Had you been hated...: This translation may not by correct. We're assuming that Jakob von Melle has made a misreading so that "wen" (shortened: wē) became "unde" (shortened: vñ).

Thus it might be an allusion to James 4:4, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God".


Up to Text and Photos