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“The Dawnce of Makabre” (DIMEV 4104)

The Dawnce of Makabre: FOOTNOTES

1 By whose example you may learn to die well

2 No charter will help, nor receipt, nor (legal) clause

3 No help or comfort then is needed




The Dawnce of Makabre: EXPLANATORY NOTES

ABBREVIATIONS: A version: Lydgate, Dance of Death (Selden); B version: Lydgate, Dance of Death (Lansdowne); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson; D: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 322 (SC 21896); DMF: Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330–1500); DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; FP: Lydgate, Fall of Princes, ed. Bergen; Gray: “Two Songs of Death,” ed. Gray; Hassell: Hassell, Middle French Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; MED: Middle English Dictionary; ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.

Although this poem does not contain the characteristic features of the danse macabre such as social satire and a dialogue between Death and the living, it is identified in its manuscript, British Library Additional MS 37049, as “The Dawnce of Makabre.” The poem, written in a Northern dialect, is one of a large number of death-related texts included in British Library MS Additional 37049, a Carthusian miscellany produced in Yorkshire during the second half of the fifteenth century. The allusion in this context shows that the danse macabre was recognized in monastic as well as lay contexts and circulated in England, well outside of London, where most of the surviving manuscripts of Lydgate’s poem were made.

It is representative of a popular genre of late medieval and early modern epitaphs in verse, although here (as in many other examples of the genre) the length of the poem calls into question whether or not this was ever actually inscribed on a tombstone or other monument. While in the Additional MS the poem is titled “The Dawnce of Makabre” and at line 63 enjoins its readers to “remembyr of the dawnce of makabre,” it does not contain the catalogue of figures or elements of estates satire found in Lydgate’s poem and characteristic of the Dance of Death tradition more broadly. It does, however, emphasize the inevitability and universality of death throughout, as well as the transitory nature of earthly life and achievements.

While, despite the title it is given in manuscript, the text is not closely aligned with the danse macabre tradition, it contains a number of other interesting literary features. The poem is framed as an epitaph, in which the memorial itself speaks to passersby. The second stanza is carefully structured to include each of the seven deadly sins, while the fourth and fifth stanzas feature an extended meditation on the great men of the past, an example of the ubi sunt trope borrowed from classical literature, which we also find in “Three Messengers of Death” (DIMEV 5387) included in this edition. The direct address to the reader, maintained throughout the poem, asks the reader to directly confront issues related to death, packing both vivid description and emotional intensity into the poem’s 83 rhyme royal lines. In the manuscript, a large, colored drawing of a skeleton wearing a crown, facing the reader and with one hand upraised, further heightens the sensation of direct address. This visual addition evokes the “image-text” quality of the larger danse macabre tradition, and resembles the visuals accompanying Lydgate’s “Death’s Warning to the World” (DIMEV 4905).

1 O ye al whilk that by me cummes and gothe. This poem presents itself as an epitaph or memorial inscription, addressing itself to passersby. For more on the ‘speaking’ tombstone, see the notes to lines 76 and 78 below.

8–14 Why art thou . . . . has sone pasayge. This second stanza touches on each of the seven deadly sins: pride (“prowde elacyon”), avarice (“wordly covetyse”), anger (“wrathe”), envy (“invyos swellyng”), gluttony (“glotony”), sloth (“Brynnyng in slomer and slawly in corayge”), and lust (“to be lycheros”).

22–27 Wher is Salomon . . . . Jonathas ful amyabyll. This 6-line stanza with an ababbb rhyme scheme breaks from the poem’s regular 7-line ababbcc stanza form. This stanza is an example of the ubi sunt (where are they?) trope, which reflects on the greatness of departed figures from the past. See also the note to lines 141–44 in “Three Messengers of Death” (DIMEV 5387) in this edition.

22 Salomon . . . with al his prudence. Solomon is the Old Testament Israelite king known for his wisdom and traditionally considered the author of the biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.

23 myghty Sampson duk invyncybyll. In the Old Testament Book of Judges 13–16, Samson is a leader of the Israelites who possesses extraordinary physical strength. His strength failed after his long hair was cut by his mistress Delilah, in violation of his Nazarite vow.

24 Tullyus the retrysciane with al his eloquence. Marcus Tullius Cicero, (106 BCE–42 BCE), is a Roman politician and rhetorician whose letters were an important stylistic model for medieval writers.

25 Arystotil. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is considered one of the founders of the Western philosophical tradition.

26 Or this emprour Octavy mest pessybyll. Gaius Octavius Augustus is the first Roman emperor, grand-nephew of Julius Caesar. His reign (27 BCE–14 CE) coincided with a period of relative peace known as the pax romana.

27 swete Jonathas ful amyabyll. Jonathan is considered a model of loyalty, whose friendship with King David is described in 1 Kings 18.

30 twynkillyng of ane ee. Proverbial. See Whiting T547.

38 As Job says in his funerall obsequye. The protagonist of the biblical book of Job is considered a model of devout and patient suffering; see also the note to line 3 in “Three Messengers of Death” (DIMEV 5387) above. The more specific reference here may be to Pety Job, a popular poetic meditation on the Office of the Dead, written in the mid-fifteenth century. Pety Job quotes from and imaginatively expands upon a series of verses drawn from Job’s speeches, as well as material from the Book of Psalms. As the Dawnse of Makabre says, the purpose of Pety Job is that readers “may lerne to dye.” The “tretys” mentioned in line 40 refers to the biblical Book of Job.

42–43 O erthly man . . . sal to erth. An allusion to Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” This theme also reappears in line 58. See also Whiting E22.

51 Into powdyr we sal fall. The phrase evokes the Order for the Burial of the Dead in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (“I Commende thy soule to God the father almightie, and thy bodye to the grounde, earth to earth, asshes to asshes, duste to dust, in sure and certayne hope of resurreccion to eternall lyfe, through our Lorde Iesus Christe” sig. T6v; STC 16272) which itself alludes to Genesis 18:27: “And Abraham answered, and said: ‘Seeing I have once begun, I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes.’”

63 Man remembyr of the dawnce of makabre. This is the only explicit reference to the danse macabre in the poem. The injunction for the reader to remember echoes line 18 of the A version of Lydgate’s Dance of Death, which suggests that readers imprint the Dance in their “memorial” or memory.

76 ite venite. Literally, “go, come” (e.g., come from here), this Latin phrase was a common inscription on tombstones. The phrase evokes the address to those who “by me cummes and gothe” in the first line of the poem.

78 this litterall scripture. A pun. The poem is literally inscribed on the tombstone.







The Dawnce of Makabre: TEXTUAL NOTES

London, British Library Additional 37049 fols. 31v–32r

Brunner, Karl, ed. “Dance of Makabre.” In “Mittelenglische Todesgedichte.” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 167 (1935), 27–28, 30.
Doty, Brant Lee, ed. “Dawnce of Makabre.” In “An Edition of British Museum Manuscript Additional 37049: a Religious Miscellany.” Ph.D. Dissertation: Michigan State University, 1969. Pp. 206–11.
Hogg, James, ed. “A Morbid Preoccupation with Mortality? The Carthusian London British Library MS. Add. 37049.” Zeit, Tod und Ewigkeit in der Renaissance Literatur 2 (1986): 52–54.

ABBREVIATIONS: A1: London, British Library Additional 37049 fols. 31v–32r (basis for “Dawnce of Makabre”); A2: London, British Library Additional 15225, fols. 15r–16r (basis for “Shaking of the Sheets”); BD: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ 1.1.6 (Bannatyne MS Draft), pp. 43r–44r; BM: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ 1.1.6 (Bannatyne MS Main), fols. 56r–57r (basis for “Resoning betuix Death and Man”); Brown: Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, p. 241; Brunner: “Mittelenglische Todesgedichte,” ed. Brunner, pp. 27–28, 30; C: Cambridge, Cambridge University Library Ff.5.45, fols. 13r–14r; Cov: Coventry, Coventry Archives Acc. 325/1, fols. 70rb–74vb; Cutler: Cutler, John L. “A Middle English Acrostic,” p. 88; D: Oxford, Bodleian Library Douce 322 (SC 21896), fols. 19vb–20ra (basis for “Death’s Warning to the World”); Doty: “An Edition of British Museum MS Additional 37049: a Religious Miscellany,” ed. Doty, pp. 206–11; Dufour: La dance macabre peinte sous les charniers des Saints Innocents de Paris, ed. Dufour; F: Bibliothèque nationale de France fonds français 14989, fols. 1r–12v (basis for French Danse macabre); Fein: The Danse Macabre Printed by Guyot Marchant, ed. Fein; Furnivall: “Of Þre Messagers of Deeth,” ed. Furnivall, 2:443–48; H1: London, British Library Harley 1706, fols. 19v–20r; H2: London, British Library, Harley 116, fols. 128r–v (basis for “A Mirror for Young Ladies at their Toilet”); Horstmann: “Nachträge zu den Legenden 5: The Messengers of Death,” ed. Horstmann, pp. on 432–34; L: British Library MS Lansdowne 669, fols. 41v–50v (basis for Lydgate, Dance of Death, B version), fols. 41v–50v; Lincy: “La danse macabre reproduite textuellement d’apres l’unique exemplaire connu de l’édition princeps de Guyot Marchant,” ed. Le Roux de Lincy, pp. 291–317; N: New Haven, Beinecke Library MS 493, fols. 51v–60v; P: Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys Library, Pepys Ballads 2.62; R: Oxford, Bodleian Library 4o Rawl. 566 (203); RV: Rome, Venerable English College (AVCAU) MS 1405, fols. 111r–21r; S: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Selden Supra 53, fols. 148r–58v (basis for Lydgate, Dance of Death, A version); Saugnieux: “La danse macabre française de Guyot Marchant (1486),” ed. Saugnieux, pp. 143–64; Silverstein: “Cest le Myrroure pur les Iofenes Dames,” ed. Silverstein, pp. 121–22; Sim: London, British Library Addit. 22283 [Simeon MS], fols. 88vb–89ra; V: Oxford, Bodleian Library Eng. poet. a.1 (SC 3938) [Vernon MS], fols. 297vc–98rb (basis for “Three Messengers of Death”); Warren: The Dance of Death, ed. Warren and White; W1: Oxford, Bodleian Library Wood 401 (60) (Wing H2013A); W2: Oxford, Bodleian Library Wood 402 (48) (Wing H2013B).

1 that. Inserted above line in A1.

48 As. So Doty, A1. Brunner emends to as that.

51 nover. So Brunner. A1, Doty: neir.
























O ye al whilk that by me cummes and gothe,
Attende and behold this warldes vanyté.
To lyke symylitude, be ye lefe or lothe,
Sal ye cum for al your warldly prosperité.
Thinne abydyng here is in no stabilité:
Yowthe sal passe and his verteus swage
Deth sal cum and lyfe sal hafe passage.

Why art thou so sett in prowde elacyon,
And with the desyres of worldly covetyse?
Why in wrathe has thou syche distrubacoun
With invyos swellyng of gret malyce?
Glotony usyng wher les wald suffyce?
Brynnyng in slomer and slawly in corayge,
Or to be lycheros for al syche life has sone pasayge.

Thogh gleteryng thou be as byrnysched gold bright,
None to thee lyke thee semes in lusty purtrature.
Ilk men byn stowte in his perfyte right,
Enformed with bewtes by nature,
And with strenth also to fortefye thi fygure.
The day sal cum thou sal out of this warld wende
Thi mortal fayte of thee sal make ane ende.

Wher is Salomon now with al his prudence,
Or myghty Sampson, duk invyncybyll,
Tullyus the retrysciane with al his eloquence,
Or Arystotil in witt moste sensybyll,
Or this emprour Octavy mest pessybyll,
Or swete Jonathas ful amyabyll.

Wher bene thies clerkes so experte in clergy,
Thies kynges and prynce myghty and stronge
Al ar thai gone and close with twynkillyng of ane ee.
Of this warldly joy the feste dures not longe.
That joy is endyd as a schadow us emonge.
Here is no lastyng ese ne no tranquyllité
Bot labour, travell, and myche adversyté.

Remembyr thi selfe — here is no sykyr abydynge,
And se how this warld is so transitory.
Thou must departe, here is no long dwellynge
As Job says in his funerall obsequye,
In whos servyse thou may lerne to dye,1
Whos tretys is a perfyte evydence
To schew what sal be after thine existence.

O erthly man, why rejoyces thou thee of gudes erthly,
Sen erthe sal to erth, what is thi cause?
Remembyr thi selfe on ilk syde verely.
No chartyr may help, byll scrow, ne clawse,2
Thine abydyng here is bot a lytel pawse
It vanysches away and that hastely
As teches experience dayly.

We that wer sum tyme in this wardles passayge
War myghty strong and replete in ryches
Into powdyr we sal fall, be we nover so sayge,
Of wardly joy syche is the progresse.
O barayne saule that is so witles,
That in the lyfes space cannot remembyr
Thi selfe, safe that sal be dust ilk membyr.

Why is thi hert so sett in gladnes?
For to wormes mete thou art grathed and made,
For erth is gifen to erth in sothfastnes,
The flesche is borne into dethe to be hade.
O wretchyd man, whi art thou so glad,
With syche daliaunce and fals elacoun?
Why wantes thou reson and discrecoun?

Man, remembyr of the dawnce of makabre,
How lordes spritual and also temperall,
Yowthe nor age ther has none lyberté,
Bot must passe be Dethes dedes mercyall.
Wherfore lat it be oft in thi memoriall,
For the tyme sal aproche hence for to wende
And to a lyke semblande be broght to ende.

When Deth sal smyte thee with his mercyal darte,
By paynes strong throghe thi hert rote,
Mynysteryng the poyntes of his sore arte,
No help ne socour than nedes to mote.3
Resembyl this fygure, ther is none other bote
And thi reward hafe, owther gode or yll,
When the tyme cummes ite venite to fulfyll.

Who sum ever it be that by this cummes and gothe,
Stande and behold this litterall scripture
And it se and over rede, be thou lefe or lothe,
Thi wepyng teres fast sched in gode ure.
Thou art now as I was in warldly fygure;
I was as thou art, sum tyme be dayes olde.
O pray ye al for me, I pray yow a thowsand-folde.
who; come and go; (see note); (t-note)
world’s vanity
alike appearance; loving or loathing
Shall; come worldly
Thine; permanence
shall; diminish

Gluttonous; less would
Burning in slumber; slothful in desire
lecherous; soon; (see note)

glittering; burnished
handsome form
These; bold; their
Developed; beauties
strength; their
shall come; go
an end

Solomon; (see note)
Sampson, duke; (see note)
Cicero; rhetorician; (see note)
Aristotle; (see note)
Octavian; most peaceable; (see note)
Jonathan; amiable; (see note)(see note)

are; learned doctrine

buried; an eye; (see note)
worldly; feast endures
shadow; among

secure dwelling

sad funeral rites; (see note)

treatise (book); complete

earthly possessions
Since; (see note)
each; truly

experience teaches [us] daily; (t-note)

world’s passage
powder; never so wise; (see note); (t-note)
barren soul

except; every limb

worms’ food; prepared
given; in truth

dalliance; arrogance

Dance of Macabre; (see note)
spiritual and earthly lords
by Death’s merciful deeds
let; memory
to go

strike (smite); merciful
heart’s root
Administering; activities; painful

have; either
come and go; (see note)

(see note)
willing or unwilling
good fortune
worldly form


Go to “Can Ye Dance the Shaking of the Sheets” (DIMEV 956)