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La Danse macabre

La Danse Macabre, Translation by Elizaveta Strakhov: 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.


The French Danse macabre is extant in fifteen manuscripts, the earliest dating from 1426–27 (see Headnote in Textual Notes) and the rest falling between the mid-late fifteenth century, nineteen incunabula printed from 1485 to 1500 alone, and one sixteenth-century manuscript that is a copy of an incunabulum (Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, MS 3896, copying Marchant’s edition of 1490). Authorship of the Danse remains uncertain, but several scholars have pointed to the fact that in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France lat. 14904, dated to c. 1440 by Gilbert Ouy (Les manuscrits de l’Abbaye de Saint-Victor, 2.327–28), the Danse is specified in the contemporary table of contents as being the text as copied from the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents and is collocated with texts by Jean Gerson (1363–1429) and Nicolas de Clemanges (1360–1437). Meanwhile, a Catalàn translation of the Danse, made at the end of the fifteenth century by Pedro Miguel de Carbonell, ends with a verba translatoris (words of the translator) alleging his source to have been penned by “un sant home doctor e Canceller de Paris en lengua francesa apellat Joannes Climachus sive Climages” (a devout man, a doctor and clerk of Paris in French named Joannes Climachus or Climages) (Saugnieux, Les danses macabres de France et d’Espagne, p. 25). This coincidence has suggested to Maya Dujakovic (“The Dance of Death, the Dance of Life,” pp. 222–27) that the work was or was believed to come from the circles of Jean Gerson (who was a chancellor at the University of Paris) and Nicolas de Clemanges. However, Jöel Saugnieux (Les danses macabres de France et d’Espagne, pp. 54–55) and Sophie Oosterwijk (“Of Dead Kings,” pp. 153–54) advance objections to this argument, citing the circumstantial quality of the evidence.

The Danse macabre is clearly Lydgate’s direct source for the Dance of Death, as he alleges in his opening verba translatoris in the A version, in which he describes seeing “Machabres Daunce” (A version, line 24) at “Seint Innocentis” (A version, line 35). In most manuscripts of the Danse, the opening and closing stanzas of the work are spoken by an authority figure variously named “docteur,” “l’acteur,” or “maistre.” In Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 14989, a manuscript belonging to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, however, this speaker is explicitly identified as “Machabre Docteur.” (According to Kurtz [Dance of Death and the Macabre Spirit, p. 23], the same speaker marker occurs at the end of the text in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, naf. 10032; we have not, unfortunately, been able to verify this through consultation of the original manuscript.) Lydgate calls the same character “Machabre the Doctour” (A version, before line 641). Hanno Wijsman dates the French manuscript of the Danse containing the “Machabre docteur” speaker marker to 1426 or 1427 on the basis of its watermark; he further shows that it was once bound with the Division des Orleanois contre les Anglois, which treats the death of Thomas Montacute, Duke of Salisbury, who died in 1428. These details place BNF MS fr. 14989 in Paris right after the Danse macabre mural was finished and during or just after Lydgate’s visit in 1426. Wijsman goes on to argue that the unique level of visual detail in this manuscript version’s speaker markers suggests that it may have been copied directly from the mural, which the scribe aimed to verbally describe in his otherwise unillustrated copy (see “Un manuscrit de Philippe Le Bon”). In addition, the order of speakers in the A version of Lydgate’s Dance matches the order of speakers in this and other manuscripts of the Danse; Marchant’s 1485 and subsequent editions follow a slightly altered order, suggesting he was working from a different recension. This manuscript, BNF MS fr. 14989, thus seems closest to Lydgate’s source for his Dance of Death, and we have therefore chosen to edit and translate its contents to accompany Lydgate’s text.


In the A version’s final two stanzas, titled “Lenvoye de Translator” or “translator’s envoy,” Lydgate adopts the well-known pose of the humble translator, professing his lack of “suffisaunce” (fluency, line 671) in French due to being an English native. He also invites his readers to correct his translation where it is wanting and notes that he translates “[n]ot worde by worde but folwyng the substaunce” (not word by word but following the content, line 666). This is a familiar posture of proclaimed English deference before the cultural might of literary French that mirrors Lydgate’s fellow Francophile English predecessors: see the note to line 671 of the A version of Lydgate’s Dance. Lydgate’s professed difficulties with French are belied, however, by the translation itself. Lydgate’s close attention to the language of his original yet simultaneous impulse to adapt and rewrite to vivid effect are already visible from the opening stanzas of his work. The opening stanza of the original Danse, for example, is as follows:

O, creature raisonnable,                                                       O, creature endowed with reason,
Qui desires vie eternelle,                                                      You who long for eternal life,
Tu as cy doctrine notable                                                     You have before you an important precept
Pour bien finer vie mortelle.                                                For properly ending your mortal life.
La danse macabre s’appelle                                                It is called the Danse macabre,
Que chascun a danser apprant.                                          Which everyone learns to dance.
A homme et femme est mort naturelle;                            Death is natural to men and women;
Mort n’espargne petit ne grant.                                          Death spares neither the lowly nor the lofty.
(lines 7–14)

In Lydgate’s rendition, we find:

O creatures ye that ben resonable                                      who are reasonable
The liif desiring wiche is eternal,
Ye may se here doctrine ful notable,                                  see
Youre lif to lede wich that is mortal,
Therby to lerne in especial                                                   in particular
Howe ye shul trace the Daunce of Machabre,                  follow
To man and womman yliche natural,                                alike
For Deth ne spareth hy ne lowe degré.                              does not spare
(lines 41–48)

Here Lydgate’s heavy reliance on cognates has the double advantage of gesturing extensively to his French source while rendering the text into a flowing English idiom. But by adding “ye shul trace” in line 46 he subtly highlights the dynamic performative quality of the Danse macabre, whereas the French original just presents the phrase as the text’s title. These processes — of relying on cognates but also insisting on alterations that emphasize, in particular, the active participatory quality of Death’s dance — are characteristic of Lydgate’s whole text.

In our own translation, we have remained as faithful as possible to the original French Danse, and we note especially syntactically and linguistically challenging moments in our Explanatory Notes. Since the A version of Lydgate’s text is closer to the Danse than the later B revision, all references to Lydgate refer to this version unless otherwise noted. Furthermore, this translation was intentionally done without consulting Lydgate’s own in the process, lest his word choices unduly influence the modern English renderings and thus taint the modern English with Middle English usage and, more importantly, leave a distorted impression of the closeness of Lydgate’s translation. Yet the final results, we think, speak for themselves: for all the distance between Middle and modern English, our new translation helps show that Lydgate offers a remarkably precise rendering of his French original in his instances of close translation.

Within our own translation, one particularly difficult decision has revolved around naming the Danse’s representation of its deadly interlocutor. The French text renders this character as “le mort,” literally “the dead man,” a figure clearly intended to double the living persons, all male, to whom it speaks. That “le mort” is the terrifying double of the Danse’s all-male characters is also suggested by widespread danse macabre iconography, in which each living person is represented in conversation with his or her own emaciated and decomposing figure. In the later Danse macabre des femmes the figure is, fittingly, “la morte,” “the dead woman.” The French term for the abstract concept of death, meanwhile, is “la mort,” gendered female. We have nevertheless chosen to translate “le mort” as “Death” for several reasons: firstly, “the dead man” seemed aesthetically clunky; secondly, this is the term used throughout the Middle English death poetry that forms the subject of this collection, suggesting that contemporary English readers, like Lydgate, would have understood “le mort” as the abstract concept of death, despite the gendering of the term (see, for example, the illustration of Death in MS Douce 322, discussed in the Headnote to the Explanatory Notes for Lydgate’s “Death’s Warning to the World” [DIMEV 4905]). We have therefore chosen to render “le mort” by the more efficient and historically pertinent “Death,” while cognizant that there is no good method for underscoring the way in which “le mort,” in the spirit of late medieval death poetry as a whole, neatly combines the idea of death as universalized abstraction with that of death as a particularized humanoid figure that inversely mirrors the living bodies of its interlocutors.

Given the similarity in content between this text and Lydgate’s adaptation thereof, the reader is referred to the Explanatory Notes accompanying Lydgate’s Dance of Death (both A and B versions) for any overlapping material. The Explanatory Notes that follow here concern details specific to this text and to this translation. The Latin here and at the end of the poem has been translated by C. J. Lambert (Columbia University), whose accompanying notes are reproduced and marked accordingly. We also thank Lucas Wood for his invaluable assistance in helping us work through some of the thornier sections of the text.

1–2 Nec pictura decus . . . . ducere festa monet. This and several other manuscripts open with this line in Latin that draws attention to the idea of a painting representing dancing, which speaks to the “image-text” quality of the Danse painted at the Holy Innocents; compare lines 519–20.

2 In que is being taken with festa here, according to Lambert.

14 Mort n’espargne petit ne grant. Proverbial. See Hassell M200.

17 Cilz est eureux qui bien s’i mire. Pursuant to the complex semantic field of “mirouer” (see Explanatory Note to Lydgate, A version, line 49 above), “bien s’i mire” evokes both the literal sense of seeing one’s reflection as well as the more figurative notions of contemplating and meditating on that reflection and the curative sense of taking care of oneself.

22 Tout est forgié d’une matiere. Proverbial. See Hassell M98.

70 Toute joye fine en tristesse. Proverbial. See Hassell J23.

78 Le plus riche n’a q’un linseul. Proverbial. See Hassell L59.

80 sauvage. The poet’s choice of this term in the context of a terrifying dance, as spoken by the character of the king, would surely have reminded contemporary readers of the devastating “Bal des ardents” (The Dance of the Burning Men), also known as the “Bal des sauvages” (The Dance of the Wild Men) of 1393. At the dance, King Charles VI, who had suffered his first attack of madness the year before, disguised himself and several other courtiers as shaggy wildmen, or creatures of the forest, for the purposes of a masque. Although attendees were warned to keep candles away from the highly flammable costumes, fire broke out, and multiple courtiers died, while the king himself barely escaped a similar fate. Some contemporary chroniclers suspected an assassination attempt by Louis of Orléans, the king’s brother. These suspicions fueled political opposition to Louis that resulted eventually in his assassination in 1407 and the outbreak of the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War. See further Veenstra, Magic and Divination, pp. 89–95. Lydgate reproduces the term “savage” in his translation at line 114 of the A version, though it is not clear if he is picking up on this reference or simply using a cognate.

86 A la fin fault devenir cendre. Proverbial. See Hassell C19.

94 Fole esperance deçoit l’omme. Proverbial. See Hassell E76.

118 Contre la mort n’a nul respit. Proverbial. See Hassell M193. See also lines 366, 375–76, and 393.

142 Ce que l’un fait, l’autre despiece. Proverbial. See Hassell F6.

150 Dessoubz le ciel n’a riens estable. Proverbial. See Hassell R39.

151–53 pic . . . . pic. The author is punning here on two meanings for the word “pic”: pick-axe as well as an idiomatic expression derived from jeu de piquet, a type of card game, in which “pic” refers to a situation where one player dominates the game so thoroughly that his opponent cannot even score a single point. This expression also occurs as a metaphor for death contemporaneously in the lyric Mourir me voy by Reginaldus Libert (fl. c. 1425–35) and in an untitled lyric found in the Bayeux manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 9346), a collection dating to c. 1500. See further, Oxford Music Online, “Libert, Reginaldus” and Gérold, Manuscrit de Bayeux, p. 44 (Chanson XXXIX).

155 Vostre fait gist en aventure. Aventure is a semantically laden word in French, similar to the association of the Middle English aventure with the ideas of chance and risk as well as ‘adventurous journey’ (compare “Aventures” in “The Three Messengers of Death” [DIMEV 5387], lines 13, 44, 47, 61, and 99). We have selected a looser translation to get at this sense of the exciting, unexpected, and potentially dangerous.

174 Il n’est qui puisse mort fuir. Proverbial. See Hassell M195.

190 Le plus gras est premier pourry. Proverbial. See Hassell G52.

214 Contre la mort n’a point d’appel. Proverbial. See Hassell M191.

230 Qui vouldra bien morir bien vive. Proverbial. See Hassell M231.

238 On ne scet pour qui on amasse. Proverbial. See Hassell A86.

247 chanoine prebendez. See note to Lydgate’s Dance of Death A version, line 313.

254 La mort vient qu’on ne garde l’eure. Proverbial. See Hassell M201.

262 A bien morir doit chascun tendre. Proverbial. See Hassell M224.

270 Tel convoite qui a assez. Proverbial. See Hassell C291.

278 Qui trop embrasse peu estraint. Proverbial. See Hassell E23.

298 appellez. From appeller, to shout and, figuratively, to lodge an appeal; both would be fitting actions for an officer of the law who was in the process of being violently attacked.

310 Envis meurt qui aprins ne l’a. Literally, “he is loath to die who has not learned it,” wherein the referent to “it” is not fully clear. We have taken this as referring to the whole idea of the ars moriendi, or learning to die.

318 Vie d’omme est peu de chose. Proverbial. See Hassell V97.

327 sens desreuglé. This phrase has a dual sense of both a troubled mind (as in, troubled by fear) but also in the sense of mental breakdown or disorder. In this way, the poet seems to be suggesting that usury is such an unnatural way of making a living that it will literally drive its practitioner mad.

334 A tout perdre est cop perilleux. This elliptic phrase appears to be a French proverb derived from gambling. An eighteenth-century proverb dictionary explains as follows: “A tout perdre il n’y a qu’un coup perilleux: se dit, lorsque’en risquant tout, on se resout à tout ce qui peut arriver” (It takes but one dangerous play to lose everything: this is said when, in risking everything, one resigns oneself to anything that may happen); see Dictionnaire des proverbes françois, ed. Backer, perdre. The general sense seems to concern the precariousness of one’s fortunes in games of chance; we have therefore chosen a slightly looser translation to get at the full dimensions of the proverb. Lydgate, it should be noted, opts for a more literal rendition: “O perillous strook shal make thee lese al” in line 400 of the A version.

342 Tel a beaux eulx qui n’y voit goute. Proverbial. See Hassell Y4.

350 N’est pas quitte qui doit de reste. Proverbial. See Hassell Q12.

358 Bon mire est qui se scet guerir. Proverbial. See Hassell M154.

374 Beauté n’est qu’ymage fardé. Proverbial. See Hassell B35.

382 Petite pluye abat grant vent. According to the DMF, pluie (n.), this phrase is proverbial: “Idée de changement rapide (en partic. entre joie et tristesse, entre vantardise et abattement . . .). ‘Il faut peu de chose pour que tout change, pour que l’effet soit important.’” (The notion of swift change (esp. between joy and grief, between boastfulness and comeuppance . . .). ‘It takes just a little bit to change everything, to have an enormous effect.’) See also Hassell P201. Lydgate opts for a similar rendition, writing, “And windes grete gon doun with litil reyn” in line 448 of the A version.

383 sans long proces. This is an expression literally meaning with no delay but clearly playing on “proces” in the sense of trial or juridical proceeding, which befits Death’s addressee in this stanza. We have chosen to translate this as “deliberation” to evoke the idea of delay within a legal context. Lydgate also picks up on this pun, rendering the phrase with a neat “short processe for to make” in line 465 of the A version.

390 Bon fait justice prevenir. Proverbial. See Hassell J53.

398 Dieu rendra tout a juste pris. Proverbial. See Hassell D82.

406 Maistre doit monstrer sa science. Proverbial. See Hassell M28.

410 J’ay mis soubz le banc ma vielle. An idiomatic expression that literally means, “I have placed my viol under the bench” this phrase figuratively denotes the idea of fully and with finality abandoning a project or activity. Hence, we have translated the phrase a bit loosely, to get at both senses implied.

411 sauterelle. The sauterelle is an animated dance characterized by high leaps and skips. See Taylor, “Que signifiait ‘danse,’” pp. 265–67 on the particular association in medieval iconography of the danse macabre with fast dancing, featuring high leaps, characteristic of contemporary representations of folk dancing. Compare also the king’s laments concerning the “savage” nature of the dance in the Danse macabre, line 80, as well as in Lydgate’s Dance (A version, line 114, and B version, line 106).

430 Qui dieu quitte bien est eureux. Proverbial. See Hassell D94.

438 Fol est qui cuide tousjours vivre. Proverbial. See Hassell C352.

446 Au monde n’a point de reppos. Proverbial. See Hassell R29.

454 A toute heure la mort est preste. Proverbial. See Hassell M186.

461 En petite heure dieu labeure. Proverbial. See Hassell D87.

478 meurt joune que vieulx. Proverbial. See Hassell M226.

486 Dieu punist tout quant bon luy semble. Proverbial. See Hassell D81.

494 Moult remaint de ce que fol pense. Literally, “much remains of what a fool thinks,” which we have chosen to clarify with the addition of “unrealized.” Lydgate seems to have understood the phrase similarly in his translation: “For moche faileth of thing that foles thinke” in line 608 of the A version.

502 Vie n’est pas seur heritaige. Proverbial. See Hassell V98.

517 livre. I.e., the Bible.

519–20 Vous qui . . . danser estas divers. The text’s injunction to look upon the accompanying “pourtraitture” reminds us that the Danse was apprehended by many contemporaries, Lydgate included, as a visual image as well as text; compare Danse macabre, line 1. Lydgate also has his king speak to readers “that lokyn upon this portrature” in line 633 of the A version. In the B version, however, he replaces the word with “scripture” (line 561), a curious change given that it is the B version that seems to have been painted at St Paul’s Cathedral (see Introduction, pp. 16–17).

522 est . . . viande a vers. Proverbial. See Hassell V86.

535–37 Mais aucuns sont . . . . ilz auront chault. The French text is punning here on “n’en chault” (do not care) in line 535 and “auront chault” (will be warm, i.e., in the fires of hell) in line 537. Since English does not allow for the same pun, we have chosen instead to use the phrase “warm welcome” to lend the passage a similarly satirical tone.

542 Bien fait vault moult aux trespassez. Proverbial. See Hassell B97.

548 plangere. Stronger than merely lamenting or bewailing, this word can refer to beating or striking the body or chest, according to Lambert.

552 herebi. According to Lambert, this refers to classical Erebus and the realm of the Erinnyes (the Furies), from Greek ‘??gß??’ the lower world or god of darkness.
pagina sacra. This refers to the text of Scripture, i.e., Christian teaching/doctrine, according to Lambert.


La Danse Macabre, Translation by Elizaveta Strakhov: TEXTUAL NOTES

Our edition of the Danse macabre intentionally uses an early manuscript, Paris, BNF fonds francaise MS 14989, containing the name “Machabre Docteur,” as its base-text (see Headnote to Explanatory Notes for the Danse macabre on p. 142), whereas other modern editions of the Danse all take Guyot Marchant’s 1485 and 1486 editions as their base-text. Warren also opts for a manuscript as her base-text: British Library, Additional MS 38858. Emendations of our base-text have been made simply for grammatical clarity, but we adduce the other modern editions as parallels to our editorial choices; in a few cases obviously corrupt readings have been emended in accordance with the other editions.

1. Chantilly, Bibliothèque et Archives du Château, MS 502 (olim 1920), fols. 1r–20v.
2. Lille, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 139 (olim 364), fols. 233v–39v.
3. London, British Library, Additional, MS 38858, fols. 2r–12r.
4. Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, 3896, fols. 237r–64v.
5. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds latin MS 14904, fols. 64r–72r.
6. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 995, fols. 1r–17r.
7. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 1055, fols. 68r–75r.
8. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 1181, fols. 137v–40v (fragment).
9. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 1186, fols. 89r–98v.
10. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 14989, fols. 1r–12v (base text for this edition).
11. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 25434, fols. 18r–35v.
12. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français MS 25550, fols. 235r–49v.
13. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, nouvelles acquisitions françaises MS 10032, fols. 209r–23v.
14. Saint-Omer, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 127, fols. 201r–06r.
15. Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 907, fols. 99v–114v.

INCUNABULA: For a comprehensive list of incunabula printing the Danse macabre, see the Universal Short Title Catalogue (, using the keyword “Danse macabre” to search.

La grande danse macabre des hommes et des femmes precédée du dict des trois mors et des trois vifz, du debat du corps et de l’âme, et la complaincte de l’âme dampnée. Paris: Bailleu, 1862.
de Lincy, Le Roux, and L. M. Tisserand, eds. “La danse macabre reproduite textuellement d’apres l’unique exemplaire connu de l’édition princeps de Guyot Marchant (Paris, 1485) et completée avec l’édition de 1486.” In Paris et ses historiens aux XIVe et XVe Siècles. Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1867. Pp. 291–317.
Dufour, Valentin, ed. La dance macabre peinte sous les charniers des Saints Innocents de Paris (1425): reproduction de l’édition princeps donnée par Guyot Marchant, texte et gravures sur bois (1485). Paris: Féchoz, 1874. Rpt. 1875. Rpt. 1891.
Champion, Pierre, ed. La danse macabre, reproduction en fac-similé de l’édition de Guy Marchant, Paris, 1486. Paris: Éditions des Quatre Chemins, 1925.
Warren, Florence, and Beatrice White, eds. “The French Text.” In The Dance of Death, Edited from MSS. Ellesmere 26/A.13 and B.M. Lansdowne 699, Collated with the Other Extant MSS. EETS o.s. 181. London: Oxford University Press, 1931; Rpt. New York: Klaus Reprint Co., 1971. Pp. 79–96.
Chaney, Edward F., ed. La danse macabré des charniers des Saints Innocents à Paris. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1945.
Saugnieux, Joël, ed. “La danse macabre française de Guyot Marchant (1486).” In Les danses macabres de France et d’Espagne et leurs prolongements littéraires. Lyon: Emmanuel Vitte, 1972. Pp. 143–64.
Kaiser, Gert, ed. and trans. “La danse macabre” in Der tanzende Tod: Mittelalterliche Totentänze. Frankfurt am Main: Insel-Verlag, 1982. Pp. 72–107.
Fein, David A., ed. and trans. The Danse Macabre Printed by Guyot Marchant, 1485. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2013.

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).

14 Mort n’espargne. F: Mort le nespargne.

42 timbre. So Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: timble. Warren: tymbre.

55 ce. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: se.

83 tout. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: teut.

102 le. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: les.

134 contrainte. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: centrainte.

149 cop suis. F: cop cop suis.

178 rire. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: vivre.

184 chiere. So Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: cheere. Warren: chere.

185 que. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: qui.

198 On s’advise tart en mourant. Added in space between stanzas by the scribe.

Before 199Le mort added in the margin by the scribe.

317 Homme n’est fors que vent et cendre. Added in the outer margin by the scribe with a signe de renvoi (an insertion mark) in the form of a circle and cross.

318 est peu. F: est moule peu.

332 se. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: ce.

347 ma main. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: main.

380 Souviegnez. F: souviegne. Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein all have forms of souvienne, but the verb form should be in the second person plural, as we have emended it.

403 Monstrer. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: monstres.

Before 423Le cure. F: omitted.

440 la. So Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux. F, Warren: le. Omitted in Fein.

456 n’y demeure. F: ny demeure demeure. The first demeure has been written over a word that has been scraped away. The second, crossed out demeure occurs in the right-hand margin next to the line, with traces of a third demeure written above it.

470 a a souffrir. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: a assouffrir.

472 la. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: le.

483 Qu’on. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: Quen.

511 A copy of lines 519–24 with the speaker marker are written out here but crossed out.

526 aux vers donnez. So Warren, Lincy, Dufour, Saugnieux, Fein. F: donnez aux vers.

552 amens. F: illegible, supplied by Fein.








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Nec pictura decus pompam luxumque relegat,
In que choris nostris ducere festa monet.

¶ Doctor loquitur
Discite vos choream cuncti qui cernitis istam
Quantum prosit honor gaudia divitie;
Tales estis enim matina morte futuri
Qualis in effigie mortua turba vocat.

¶ Le docteur
O, creature raisonnable,
Qui desires vie eternelle,
Tu as cy doctrine notable
Pour bien finer vie mortelle.
La danse macabre s’appelle
Que chascun a danser apprant.
A homme et femme est mort naturelle;
Mort n’espargne petit ne grant.

¶ Le docteur
En ce mirouer chascun puet lire
Qu’il le convient ainsi danser.
Cilz est eureux qui bien s’i mire;
La mort le vif fait avancier.
Tu vois les plus grans commancier,
Car il n’est nul que mort ne fiere.
C’est piteuse chose y penser:
Tout est forgié d’une matiere.

¶ Le mort au pape
Vous qui vives certainement
Quoy qu’il tarde ainsi danserez.
Mais quant? Dieu le scet seulement.
Advisies comment vous ferez.
Damp pape, vous commancerez.
Comme le plus digne seigneur,
En ce point honnoré serez:
Aux grans maistres est deu l’onneur.

¶ Le pape
Hee, fault il que la danse maine
Le premier, qui suis dieu en terre?
J’ay eu dignité souveraine
En l’esglise comme Saint Pierre,
Et, comme aultre, mort me vient querre.
Encor point morir ne cuidasse,
Mais la mort a tous maine guerre.
Peu vault honnour qui si tost passe.

¶ Le mort
Et vous, le nompareil du monde,
Prince et seigneur, grant emperierre,
Laissier fault la pomme d’or ronde,
Armes, ceptre, timbre, baniere.
Je ne vous laire pas d’arriere.
Vous ne povez plus seignorir;
J’enmaine tout — c’est ma maniere.
Les filz Adam fault tous morir.

¶ L’empereur
Je ne scay devant qui j’appelle
De la mort, qu’ainsi me demaine.
Armer me fault de pic, de pelle,
Et d’un linseul; ce m’est grant paine.
Sus tous ay eu honneur mondaine,
Et morir me fault pour tout gaige.
Et qu’est ce de mortel demaine?
Les grans ne l’ont pas davantaige.

¶ Le mort
Vos faites l’esbay, ce semble,
Cardinal — sus legierement,
Suyvons les autres tous ensemble.
Riens n’y vault esbayssement.
Vous avez vescu haultement
Et eu honneurs a grans devis:
Prenez en gré l’esbatement.
Es grans honneurs se pert l’advis.

¶ Le cardinal
J’ay bien cause de m’esbahir
Quant je me voy de si pres prins.
La mort m’est venue envair:
Plus ne vestiray vair ne gris;
Chappeau rouge et chappe de pris
Me fault laissier a grant destresse.
Je ne l’avoye pas aprins:
Toute joye fine en tristesse.

¶ Le mort
Venez, noble roy couronné,
Renommé de force et proesse.
Jadis fustes avironné
De grans pompes, de grant noblesse,
Mais maintenant toute haultesse
Laisserez. Vous n’estes pas seul.
Peu aurez de vostre richesse:
Le plus riche n’a q’un linseul.

¶ Le roy
Je n’ay point aprins a danser
A danse et notte si sauvage.
Helas, on puet veoir et penser:
Que vault orgueil, force, lignage?
Mort destruit tout — c’est son usage —
Aussi toust le grant que le mendre.
Qui moins se prise, plus est saige;
A la fin fault devenir cendre.

¶ Le mort
Patriarche, pour basse chiere
Vous ne povez estre quitté.
Vostre double crois qu’avez chiere
Un aultre aura — c’est equité.
Ne penses plus a dignité:
Ja ne serez pape de Romme.
Pour rendre compte estes cité.
Fole esperance deçoit l’omme.

¶ Le patriarche
Bien parchoy que mondains honneurs
M’ont deceu, pour dire le voir.
Mes joyes tournent en douleurs,
Et que vault tant d’onneur avoir?
Trop hault monter n’est pas savoir.
Haulx estas gastent gens sans nombre,
Mais peu le veulent parcevoir:
A hault monter le fais encombre.

¶ Le mort
C’est de mon droit que je vous mainne
A la danse, gent connestable.
Les plus fors, comme Charlemaine,
Mort prent — c’est chose veritable.
Riens ne vault chiere espoventable,
Ne forte armeure en cest assault.
D’un cop j’abat le plus estable:
Rien n’est d’armée quant mort assault.

¶ Le connestable
J’avoye encor entencion
D’assaillir chasteaux, forteresses,
Et mener a subjection
En acquerent honneur, richesses.
Mais je voy que toutes proesses
Mort met au bas — c’est grant despit.
Tout luy est un, doulceurs, rudesses;
Contre la mort n’a nul respit.

¶ Le mort
Que vous tires la teste arriere,
Archevesque? Tires vous pres.
Avez vous peur c’om ne vous fiere?
Ne doubtes: vous venres apres.
N’est pas tousjours la mort empres?
Tout homme elle suit coste a coste.
Rendre convient debtes et prests;
Une fois fault compter a l’oste.

¶ L’archevesque
Las, je ne scay ou regarder,
Tant suis par mort a grant destroit.
Ou fuiray je pour moy garder?
Certes qui bien la cognoistroit
Hors de raison jamais n’istroit.
Plus ne gerray en chambre painte;
Morir me convient, c’est le droit.
Quant faire fault, c’est grant contrainte.

¶ Le mort
Vous qui entre les grans barons
Avez eu renom, chevalier,
Obliez trompettes, clarons,
Et me suyvez sans sommeiller.
Les dames souliez resveillier
En faisant danser longue piece.
A aultre danse fault veillier.
Ce que l’un fait, l’autre despiece.

¶ Le chevalier
Or ay je esté auctorisié
En pluseurs fais, et bien famé
Des grans, et des petis prisié,
Avec ce des dames amé,
Ne onques ne fu diffamé
A la court de seigneur notable.
Mais a ce cop suis tout pasmé.
Dessoubz le ciel n’a riens estable.

¶ Le mort
Tantost n’aurez vaillent ce pic
Des biens du monde et de nature,
Evesque — de vous il est pic,
Nonobstant vostre prelature.
Vostre fait gist en aventure.
De voz subgez fault rendre compte;
A chascun dieu fera droicture.
N’est pas aseur qui trop hault monte.

¶ L’evesque
Le cueur ne me puet resjoir
Des nouvelles que mort m’aporte.
Dieu vouldra de tout compte oir:
C’est ce que plus me desconforte.
Le monde aussi peu me conforte,
Qui tout a la fin desherite;
Il retient tout: nul riens n’emporte.
Tout se passe, fors le merite.

¶ Le mort
Avancez vous, gent escuier,
Qui savez de danser les tours.
Lance porties et escu hier,
Et huy vous finerez voz jours.
Il n’est rien qui ne preigne cours.
Dansez et pensez de suir;
Vous ne povez avoir secours.
Il n’est qui puisse mort fuir.

¶ L’escuier
Puis que mort me tient en ses las,
Au moins que je puisse un mot dire:
Adieu, deduis, adieu, soulas,
Adieu, dames, plus ne puis rire.
Pensez de l’ame qui desire
Reppos; ne vous chaille plus tant
Du corps, qui tous les jours empire.
Tout fault pourrir on ne scet quant.

¶ Le mort
Abbé, venez tost, vous fuyez.
N’ayez ja la chiere esbaye.
Il convient que la mort suyez,
Combien que moult l’avez haye.
Commandez a dieu l’abbaye,
Qui gros et gras vous a norry.
Tost pourrierez a peu d’aye:
Le plus gras est premier pourry.

¶ L’abbé
De cecy n’eusse point envie,
Mais il convient le pas passer.
Las, or n’ay je pas en ma vie
Gardé mon ordre sans casser?
Gardes vous de trop embrasser,
Vous qui vives au demorant,
Se vous voulez bien trespasser.
On s’advise tart en mourant.

¶ Le mort
Bailli, qui savez qu’est justice
Et hault et bas, en mainte guise,
Pour gouverner toute police,
Venez tantost a ceste assise —
Je vous adjourne de main mise —
Pour rendre compte de voz fais
A grant juge, qui tout un prise.
Un chascun portera son fais.

¶ Le bailly
He, dieu, vecy dure journee.
De ce cop pas ne me gardoye;
Or est la chance bien tournée.
Entre juges honneur avoye,
Et mort fait ravaler ma joye,
Qui m’a adjourné sans rappel.
Je n’y voy plus ne tour ne voye;
Contre la mort n’a point d’appel.

¶ Le mort
Maistre, pour vostre regarder
En hault, ne pour vostre clergie,
Ne povez la mort retarder.
Cy ne vault riens astrologie.
Toute la genealogie
D’Adam, qui fut le premier homme,
Mort prent — ce dit theologie:
Tous fault morir pour une pomme.

¶ L’astrologien
Pour science, ne pour degres,
Ne puis avoir provision,
Car maintenent tous mes regrez
Sont morir a confusion
Pour finable conclusion.
Je ne scay riens que plus descrive;
Je pers cy toute advision.
Qui vouldra bien morir bien vive.

¶ Le mort
Bourgoys, hastes vous sans tarder.
Vous n’avez avoir ne richesse,
Qui vous puissent de mort garder.
Se des biens dont eustes largesse
Avez bien usé, c’est sagesse.
D’autruy vient, tout a autruy passe.
Fol est qui d’amasser se blesse:
On ne scet pour qui on amasse.

¶ Le bourgoys
Grant mal me fait si toust laissier
Rentes, maisons, cens, monteure,
Mais povres et riches abaissier
Tu fais, mort, telle est ta nature.
Sage n’est pas la creature
D’amer trop les biens qui demourent
Au monde et sont siens par droicture.
Ceulx qui plus ont plus envis meurent.

¶ Le mort
Sire chanoine prebendez,
Plus n’aurez distribucion
Ne gros; ne vous y attendez.
Prenez cy consolacion
Pour toute retribucion:
Morir vous convient sans demeure.
Ja n’y aurez dilacion.
La mort vient qu’on ne garde l’eure.

¶ Le chanoine
Cecy gueres ne me conforte.
Prebendez fuz en mainte esglise,
Or est la mort plus que moy forte,
Qui tout enmaine — c’est sa guise.
Blanc surplis et aumuce grise
Me fault laissier et a mort rendre.
Que vault gloire si tost bas mise?
A bien morir doit chascun tendre.

¶ Le mort
Marchant, regardez par deça.
Plusiers pays avez cerchié
A pié a cheval de pieça.
Vous n’en serez plus empeschié:
Vecy vostre desrain marchié.
Il convient que par cy passez;
De tout soing serez despeschié.
Tel convoite qui a assez.

¶ Le marchant
J’ay esté amont et aval
Pour marchander ou je porroye
Par longtemps a pié, a cheval,
Mais maintenent pers toute joye.
De tout mon povoir acqueroye,
Or ay je asses; mort me contraint.
Bon fait aler moyenne voye:
Qui trop embrasse peu estraint.

¶ Le mort
Alez, marchant, sans plus rester,
Ne faictes ja cy resistence.
Vous n’y povez riens conquester.
Vous aussi, homme d’abstinence,
Chartreux, prenez en pacience.
De plus vivre n’ayez memoire;
Faictez vous valoir a la danse.
Sur tout homme mort a victoire.

¶ Le chartreux
Je suis au monde pieça mort,
Par quoy de vivre ay moins envie,
Ja soit que tout homme craint mort.
Puis que la char est assouvie.
Plaise a dieu que l’ame ravie
Soit es cieulx apres mon trespas.
C’est tout neant de ceste vie;
Tel est huy qui demain n’est pas.

¶ Le mort
Sergent qui portez celle mace,
Il semble que vous rebellez.
Pour neant faictes la grimace;
Se on vous griefve si, appellez.
Vous estes de mort appellez;
Qui luy rebelle, il se dechoit.
Les plus fors sont tost ravallez.
Il n’est fort qu’aussy fort ne soit.

¶ Le sergent
Moy, qui suy royal officier,
Comment m’ose la mort frapper?
Je faisoye mon office hyer,
Et elle me vient huy happer?
Je ne scay quelle part eschapper;
Je suis prins deça et dela.
Malgre moy me laisse attraper.
Envis meurt qui aprins ne l’a.

¶ Le mort
Ha, maistre, par la passez;
N’ayez ja soing de vous deffendre.
Plus homme n’espoventerez.
Apres, moyne, sans plus attendre.
Ou pensez vous? Cy fault entendre:
Tantost aurez la bouche close.
Homme n’est fors que vent et cendre;
Vie d’omme est peu de chose.

¶ Le moyne
J’amasse mieulx encores estre
En cloistre et faire mon service:
C’est un lieu devost et bel estre.
Or ay je, comme fol et nice,
Ou temps passé commis maint vice,
De quoy n’ay pas fait penitance
Suffisant. Dieu me soit propice:
Chascun n’est pas joyeux qui dance.

¶ Le mort
Usurier de sens desreuglé,
Venez toust et me regardez.
D’usure estes tant aveuglié
Que d’argent gaignier tout ardez.
Mais vous en serez bien lardez,
Car se dieu, qui est merveilleux,
N’a pitié de vous, tout perdez.
A tout perdre est cop perilleux.

¶ L’usurier
Me convient il si toust mourir?
Ce m’est grant paine et grant grevance,
Et ne me pourroient secourir
Mon or, mon argent, ma chevance.
Je voys mourir; la mort m’avance.
Mais il m’en desplaist somme toute.
Qu’est ce de male acoustumance?
Tel a beaux eulx qui n’y voit goute.

¶ L’omme qui emprunte
Usure est tant mauvais pechié,
Comme chascun dit et recompte,
Et cest homme, qui approuchié
Se voit de la mort, n’en tient compte.
Mesmes l’argent qu’en ma main compte
Encor a usure me preste.
Il devra de retour au compte:
N’est pas quitte qui doit de reste.

¶ Le mort
Medecin, a tout vostre orine
Veez vous ycy qu’amender?
Jadis seustes de medicine
Assez pour povoir commander,
Or vous vient la mort demander.
Comme aultre vous convient mourir.
Vous n’y povez contremander;
Bon mire est qui se scet guerir.

¶ Le medecin
Longtemps a qu’en l’art de phisique
J’ay mis toute mon estudie.
J’avoye science et pratique
Pour guerir mainte maladie.
Je ne scay que je contredie:
Plus n’y vault herbe, ne racine,
N’autre remede. Quoy qu’on dye,
Contre la mort n’a medicine.

¶ Le mort
Gentil amoureux joune et frique,
Qui vous cuidiez de grant valour,
Vous estes prins; la mort vous picque.
Le monde lairez a doulour.
Trop l’avez amé — c’est folour —
Et a morir peu regardé.
Ja tost vous changerez coulour:
Beauté n’est qu’ymage fardé.

¶ L’amoureux
Helas, or n’y a yl secours
Contre mort? Adieu, amourettes.
Moult toust va jounesse a decours.
Adieu, chappeaux, bouquez, flourettes,
Adieu, amans et pucellettes.
Souviegnez vous de moy souvent,
Et vous mirez se saiges estes.
Petite pluye abat grant vent.

¶ Le mort
Advocat, sans long proces faire,
Venez vostre cause plaidier.
Bien avez sceu les gens attraire
De pieça, non pas d’uy ne d’ier.
Conseil si ne vous puet aidier.
Au grant juge vous fault venir.
Savoir le devez sans cuidier:
Bon fait justice prevenir.

¶ L’advocat
C’est bien drois que raison se face,
Ne je n’y scay mettre deffense.
Contre mort n’a respit ne grace;
Nul n’appelle de sa sentence.
J’ay eu de l’autruy, quant je y pense,
De quoy je doubte estre reprins.
A craindre est le jour de vengence:
Dieu rendra tout a juste pris.

¶ Le mort
Menestrel qui danses et nottes
Savez et avez beau maintien
Pour faire esjoir sos et sottes,
Qu’en dites vous? Alons nous bien?
Monstrer vous fault, puis que vous tien,
Aux autres cy un tour de dance.
Le contredire n’y vault rien:
Maistre doit monstrer sa science.

¶ Le menestrel
De danser ainsi n’eusse cure;
Certes tres envis je m’en melle,
Car de mort n’est paine plus dure.
J’ay mis soubz le banc ma vielle.
Plus ne corneray sauterelle
N’autre danse; mort m’en retient.
Il me fault obeir a elle:
Tel danse a qui au cueur n’en tient.

¶ Le mort
Passez, curé, sans plus songier;
Je sens qu’estes habandonné.
Le vif le mort soliez mangier,
Mais vous serez aux vers donné.
Vous feustes jadix ordonné
Mirouer d’autruy et exemplaire.
De voz faiz serez guerdonné:
A toute paine est deu salaire.

¶ Le cure
Vueille ou nom, il fault que me rende;
Il n’est homme que mort n’assaille.
Hee, de mes paroissiens offrande
N’auray jamais, ne funeraille.
Devant le juge fault que je aille
Rendre compte, las, doulereux.
Or ay je grant paour que ne faille:
Qui dieu quitte bien est eureux.

¶ Le mort
Laboureur qui en soing et paine
Avez vescu tout vostre temps,
Mourir fault — c’est chose certaine.
Reculer n’y vault, ne contens.
De mort devez estre contens,
Car de grant soucy vous delivre.
Approchiez vous, je vous attens:
Fol est qui cuide tousjours vivre.

¶ Le laboureur
La mort ay souhaitié souvent,
Mais volentiers je la fuysse.
J’amasse mieux, fist pluye ou vent
Estre es vignes ou je fouysse;
Encor plus grant plaisir y preisse,
Car je pers de peur tout propos.
Or n’est qui de ce pas ysse.
Au monde n’a point de reppos.

¶ Le mort
Faictes voye, vous avez tort,
Laboureur. Apres, cordelier.
Souvent avez preschié de mort,
Si vous devez moins merveiller;
Ja ne s’en fault esmay bailler.
Il n’est si fort que mort n’arreste;
Si fait bon a morir veiller.
A toute heure la mort est preste.

¶ Le cordelier
Qu’est ce que de vivre en ce monde?
Nul homme a seurte n’y demeure.
Toute vanite y habunde,
Puis vient la mort, qu’a tous court seure.
Mendicité point ne m’asseure;
Des meffais fault payer l’amende.
En petite heure dieu labeure;
Sage est le pecheur qui s’amende.

¶ Le mort
Petit enfant naguerez né,
Au monde auras peu de plaisance.
A la danse seras mené
Comme autres, car mort a puissance
Sur tous du jour de la naissance.
Convient chascun a mort offrir;
Fol est qui n’en a congnoissance.
Qui plus vit plus a a souffrir.

¶ L’enfant
A, A, A, je ne scay parler.
Enfant suy, j’ay la langue mue.
Hyer nasquis, huy m’en fault aler;
Je ne fay qu’entrée et yssue.
Rien n’ay mesfait, mais de peur sue.
Prendre en gré me fault — c’est le mieux.
L’ordonnance Dieu ne se mue;
Aussi toust meurt joune que vieulx.

¶ Le mort
Cuidiez vous de mort eschapper,
Clerc, esperdu pour reculer?
Il ne s’en fault ja desfripper.
Tel cuide souvent hault aler
Qu’on voit a cop tost ravaler.
Prenez en gré, alons ensemble,
Car riens n’y vault le rebeller:
Dieu punist tout quant bon luy semble.

¶ Le clerc
Fault il q’un joune clerc servant,
Qui en service prent plaisir
Pour cuidier venir en avant
Meure si tost? C’est desplaisir.
Je suis quitte de plus choisir
Autre estat; y fault qu’ainsy danse.
La mort m’a prins a son loisir;
Moult remaint de ce que fol pense.

¶ Le mort
Clerc, point ne fault faire reffus
De danser; faictes vous valoir.
Vous n’estes pas seul — levez sus —
Pourtant moins vous en doit chaloir.
Venez apres, c’est mon voloir,
Homme norry en hermitaige;
Ja ne vous en convient douloir.
Vie n’est pas seur heritaige.

¶ L’ermite
Pour vie dure ou solitaire
Mort ne donne de vivre espace.
Chascun le voit, si s’en fault taire.
Or requier dieu q’un don me face:
C’est que tous mes pechiez efface.
Bien suis content de tous ses biens,
Desquelx j’ay usé de sa grace.
Qui n’a souffisance, il n’a riens.

¶ Le mort luy repond
C’est bien dit, ainsi doit on dire;
Il n’est qui soit de mort delivré.
Qui mal vit, il aura du pire:
Si pense chascun de bien vivre.
Dieu pesera tout a la livre;
Bon y fait penser seoir et main.
Meilleur science n’a en livre:
Il n’est qui ait point de demain.

¶ Le roy mort qui vers mignent
Vous qui en ceste pourtraitture
Veez danser estas divers,
Pensez qu’est humaine nature:
Ce n’est fors que viande a vers.
Je le monstre, qui gis envers,
Si ay je esté roy couronnez.
Telx soiez vous, bons et pervers.
Tous estas sont aux vers donnez.

¶ Machabre docteur
Rien n’est d’omme, qui bien y pense,
C’est tout chose transitoire.
Chascun le voit par ceste danse.
Pour ce vous, qui veez l’ystoire,
Retenez la bien en memoire,
Car homme et femme elle amonneste
D’avoir de paradis la gloire.
Eureux est qui es cieulx fait feste.

¶ Le docteur encor
Mais aucuns sont a qui n’en chault,
Comme s’il ne feust paradis
N’enfer. Helas, ilz auront chault.
Les livres que firent jadix
Les sains le monstrent en beaux dis.
Acquittiez vous qui cy passez,
Et faictes du bien — plus n’en dis.
Bien fait vault moult aux trespassez.

¶ Angelus et doctor locuntur
Mortales dominus cunctos in luce creavit
Ut capiant meritis gaudia summa poli.
Felix ille quidem qui mentem jugiter illuc
Dirigit atque vigil noxia queque cavet,
Nec tamen infelix sceleris quem penitet acti
Quique suum facinus plangere sepe solet.
Sed vivunt homines tamquam mors nulla sequatur,
Et velut infernus fabula vana foret,
Cum doceat sensus viventes morte resolui
Atque herebi penas pagina sacra probet
Quas qui non metuit infelix prorsus et amens
Vivit et extinctus sentiet ille rogum.
Sic igitur cuncti sapientes vivere certent
Ut nichil inferni sit metuenda palus.

The painting does not reject glory, pomp, and indulgence
It begs us to lead into these festivities with our dances.

¶ The Teacher speaks
You, all you who behold that dance,
Learn how great is the profit of honor, joy, riches;
For this is how you shall be in the morning with Death,
Like the ones in dead effigy whom the mob summons.

¶ The Doctor
O, creature endowed with reason,
You who long for eternal life,
You have before you an important precept
For properly ending your mortal life.
It is called the Danse macabre,
Which everyone learns to dance.
Death is natural to men and women;
Death spares neither the lowly nor the lofty.

¶ The Doctor
In this mirror everyone can read
That he must dance like this.
Happy is the man who can see himself in it well;
Death makes the living come forward.
You see the loftiest take the first step,
For there is no one whom Death does not strike.
It is a pitiable thing to consider here:
Everyone is fashioned from the same material.

¶ Death to the Pope
You who are alive assuredly
Sooner or later will dance like this.
But when? Only God knows.
Consider what you will do.
Lord Pope, you will begin.
As the most venerable suzerain,
You will be honored in this regard:
Honor is owed to great lords.

Ah, must I, who am God on earth,
Lead the dance first?
I had sovereign power
In the church like Saint Peter,
And, like any other, Death comes to seek me out.
I was not at all expecting to die,
But Death wages war on everyone.
Such fleeting honor is worth little.

¶ Death
And you, peerless on earth,
Prince and lord, great emperor,
You must give up the golden orb,
The arms, the scepter, the crest, and the banner.
You I will not leave behind.
You cannot rule any longer;
I carry off everything — that’s my style.
All Adam’s sons must die.

¶ The Emperor
I do not know before whom to appeal
Against Death, who leads me away like this.
I must arm myself with a pick-axe, a shovel,
And a shroud; this is extremely hard for me.
I possessed glory on earth above all others,
And dying is all I have to show for it.
And what about mortal dominion?
The lofty do not have it anymore.

¶ Death
You act astonished, it seems,
Cardinal — up, quickly now,
Let us follow the others together.
Astonishment is of no use.
You have lived grandly
And had all the privileges you wanted:
Enjoy the entertainment.
Good sense gets lost amid great privileges.

¶ The Cardinal
I have good reason to be astonished
When I see myself so cornered.
Death has come to attack me:
Nevermore will I wear gray squirrel trim;
I must, with great distress, give up
The red hat and costly chasuble.
I had not learned it sooner:
All joy ends in sadness.

¶ Death
Come, noble crowned king,
Renowned for might and prowess.
Once upon a time you were surrounded
With great pomp and with great circumstance,
But now you leave behind
All grandeur. You are not alone.
You will have little of your riches:
The richest man has but a shroud.

¶ The King
I never did learn to dance
To such savage steps and melodies.
Alas, one can look and think:
What good is pride, might, lineage?
Death destroys all — that is its custom —
The lofty along with the lesser.
He who esteems himself least is the wiser;
In the end one must turn to ash.

¶ Death
Patriarch, your downcast look
Will not acquit you.
Your double cross, which you have prized,
Another will have — fair and square.
Think no more about your prerogatives:
You will never be the pope in Rome.
You are summoned to give account.
Foolish hope deceives men.

¶ The Patriarch
I clearly do see that worldly privileges
Have deceived me, to be honest.
My joys turn to sorrows,
And what good is having so much privilege?
Climbing too high is not wise.
Lofty estates destroy countless people,
But few are willing to realize that:
The burden weighs heavy on him who climbs high.

¶ Death
It is in my purview to lead you
To the dance, noble constable.
Death captures the mightiest
Like Charlemagne — that is the truth.
A fierce countenance is of no use,
Nor is strong armor against this attack.
With one blow I strike down the steadiest:
Military might is nothing when Death attacks.

¶ The Constable
I still had every intention
Of storming and conquering
Castles and fortresses,
While gaining fame and spoils.
But I see that Death lays all
Exploits low — that is a great shame.
Gentleness, violence, it is all the same to it;
No one gains reprieve from Death.

¶ Death
Why do you draw your head back,
Archbishop? Draw closer.
Are you afraid you will be struck?
Fear not: you will be next.
Isn’t Death always closing in?
It sticks by every man’s side.
You must render debts and dues;
At a certain point one must settle with the host.

¶ The Archbishop
Alas, I do not know where to look,
Death has me in such dire straits.
Where will I flee to protect myself?
Surely nobody who recognized Death
Would ever stray from the right path.
Never more will I lie in a painted chamber;
I must die, it is the law.
When one must do it, it is under great duress.

¶ Death
You, knight, who among the lofty barons,
Had much renown,
Forget the trumpets and the clarions
And follow me without drifting off.
You used to rouse the ladies
By dancing for a good long while.
Now you must stay up late for a new dance.
What one makes, another breaks.

¶ The Knight
Now I used to be honored
For numerous feats, and well reputed
Among the lofty, and prized by the lowly,
And also loved by ladies,
Nor was I ever defamed
At the court of a respected lord.
But by this blow I am knocked out cold.
Nothing is stable beneath the heavens.

¶ Death
Soon your worldly and natural wealth
Will not amount to this pick-axe,
Bishop — you don’t have a single card to play,
Your prelature notwithstanding.
Your fate hangs in the balance.
You should take stock of your subjects;
God will dispense justice to all.
He who climbs too high is not secure.

¶ The Bishop
My heart cannot rejoice
In the news brought to me by Death.
God will wish to go over all the accounts:
This is what pains me most.
I can get little comfort too from the world,
Which ultimately dispossesses everyone.
It keeps all; no one makes off with anything.
Everything fades, save merit.

¶ Death
Come forward, noble squire,
You who know all the dance steps.
You bore a lance and shield yesterday,
And today you will end your days.
There is nothing that does not take its course.
Dance and try to keep up;
No one can help you.
There is no one who can flee Death.

¶ The Squire
Since Death holds me tight in its snares,
At the very least let me say a word:
Farewell, pleasure, farewell, solace,
Farewell, ladies, I can laugh no more.
Think of the soul that longs for
Eternal sleep; stop worrying so much
About the body that deteriorates with each passing day.
All must rot eventually.

¶ Death
Abbot, come back at once, you are running away.
Do not look so astonished now.
It befits you to follow Death,
Much as you have always hated it.
Commend to God the abbey,
Which has turned you out big and fat.
You will rot quickly with little help:
The fattest is the first to rot.

¶ The Abbot
I had no desire for this whatsoever,
But I must take the final step.
Alas, did I not in my life
Keep my vows without breaking them?
Keep yourself from grasping too much,
You who live in the time that remains,
If you wish to die well.
It is too late to learn on the deathbed.

¶ Death
Bailiff, you who know what justice is
Everywhere, in all its forms,
When it comes to governing all administrations,
Come straightaway before this court —
I serve you with a summons —
To account for your works
Before the great judge, who assesses everyone alike.
Each and everyone will bear his burden.

¶ The Bailiff
Oh, God, this is a tough day.
I was not on my guard against this blow;
Now my fortunes have truly changed.
I used to be honored among judges,
And Death, who has summoned me
Without right of appeal, casts down my joys.
I see no more moves nor routes to take;
Against Death there are no appeals.

¶ Death
Master, for all your gazing up
On high and all your clerkly knowledge,
You cannot delay Death.
Astrology is worth nothing here.
The whole lineage
Of Adam, who was the first man,
Gets taken by Death — so says theology:
All must die for an apple.

¶ The Astrologer
Despite knowledge, despite degrees,
I cannot prepare myself for this,
For now I regret nothing more
Than ending up
Dying in distress.
I know nothing that might elucidate it more;
Here I lose all my sight.
May he who wishes to die well live well.

¶ Death
Burgess, hurry up without delay.
You have neither wealth nor riches
That might protect you from Death.
If you have made proper use of the goods
That you had in abundance, that is wise.
What comes from one all passes to another.
The fool ruins himself through hoarding:
One does not know for whom one hoards.

¶ The Burgess
It pains me greatly to give up rents,
Houses, revenues, and belongings so soon,
But you, Death, cast down
The poor and the rich, such is your nature.
No creature is wise to love too much
The goods that remain
In the material world and belong to it by right.
Those who have more are more loath to die.

¶ Death
Sir Prebendary,
No more will you have allocation
Nor revenue; do not count on it.
Take consolation in this
As sole compensation:
You must die without delay.
You will get no deferral here.
Death comes when one least expects it.

¶ The Canon
This hardly comforts me.
I had a prebend in many a church,
But now Death, who carries off everything,
Overpowers me — that is its way.
My white surplice and grey amice
I must leave and give up to Death.
What use is glory so soon brought low?
Everyone should look to dying well.

¶ Death
Merchant, look over here.
Once upon a time you roamed through
Many lands on foot and in the saddle.
You will no longer be thus preoccupied:
Here is your final marketplace.
You must pass through here;
You will be discharged of all cares.
He who has plenty only covets more.

¶ The Merchant
For a long time I traveled high and low
To trade where I could
On foot and in the saddle,
But now I lose all joy.
I did my utmost to acquire wealth,
But now I have enough; Death seizes me.
It is good to take the middle way;
He who grasps too much grips little.

¶ Death
Come, merchant, without further delay,
Do not put up any more of a fight.
You can achieve nothing by it.
You too, man of abstinence,
Carthusian, have forbearance.
Forget about living anymore;
Put your best foot forward at the dance.
Death is victorious over all men.

¶ The Carthusian
I have been dead to the world a long time,
Wherefore I have less will to live,
Even though every man fears Death.
Since the flesh has come to term,
God willing, let my soul be ravished
To the heavens at my passing.
This life is but pure naught;
We are here today and gone tomorrow.

¶ Death
Sergeant, carrying that mace,
You seem recalcitrant.
It is no use at all to make that face;
If you are being injured so, lodge an appeal.
You have been called by Death;
He who rebels against it deceives himself.
The strongest are soon felled.
No man is so strong as to be stronger than Death.

¶ The Sergeant
Me, a royal officer,
How dare Death strike me?
I was carrying out my duties just the other day,
And today it comes to snatch me?
I do not know which way to flee;
I am cornered on all sides.
Despite myself I let myself get caught.
He is loath to die who has not learned to die well.

¶ Death
Ah, master, head on through;
Do not think to defend yourself.
You will not frighten anyone anymore.
You are next, monk, no more dawdling,
What are you thinking about? Focus on this:
Soon your mouth will be shut.
Man is nothing but wind and ash;
A human life does not amount to much.

¶ The Monk
I would have preferred still being
In the cloister and saying my offices:
It is a devout place and a beautiful dwelling.
But, being foolish and senseless, I have
Committed many a vice in the past,
For which I have not done sufficient
Penance. May God look favorably upon me:
Not everyone who dances is happy.

¶ Death
Usurer, you with your disordered mind,
Come quick and look at me.
You are so blinded by usury
That you burn to rake in wealth.
But it will gouge you,
For if God, who is magnificent,
Does not pity you, you lose everything.
It is a dangerous game in which all can be lost in just one bet.

¶ The Usurer
Must I die so soon?
This causes me great pain and great misery,
And not my gold, my silver, nor my wealth
Can possibly help me.
I will die; Death leads the way.
But this angers me through and through.
What kind of unfair tax is this?
Sometimes the fairest eyes cannot see a thing.

¶ The Borrower
Usury is such an evil sin,
As everyone says and recounts,
Yet this man, who sees his death
Approach, does not take it into account.
He just continues to loan me at interest
The money he counts out into my hand.
He will owe the rest on his account:
He who owes still has not settled the debt.

¶ Death
Physician, in all your urine
Do you see here what to cure?
You once knew enough
About medicine to be able to prescribe treatment,
But now Death comes to ask for you.
You must die like any other.
You cannot countermand it:
The good doctor knows how to cure himself.

¶ The Physician
For a long time I devoted myself entirely
To studying the art of medicine;
I knew both the theory and the practice
Of curing many an illness.
I do not know with what to counter:
Plants and roots and other remedies
Are no longer any good. Whatever they say,
There is no cure for Death.

¶ Death
Noble lover, young and elegant,
You who believe yourself to be of great worth,
You have been taken; you feel Death’s sting.
You will leave the world in pain.
You have loved it too much — how foolish —
And thought little of dying.
Soon now your color will begin to change:
Beauty is but a painted image.

¶ The Lover
Alas, is there no recourse now
Against Death? Farewell, dalliances.
How quickly youth ebbs away.
Farewell, garlands, bouquets, and blossoms,
Farewell, lovers and young maidens.
May you remember me often
And mend your ways, if you are wise.
A little rain can still the strongest squall.

¶ Death
Man of law, without long deliberation,
Come plead your case.
You have well known how to sway folk
For a long time now, not just since today or yesterday.
Legal counsel cannot help you.
You must come before the great judge.
You should know it for certain:
It is meet to uphold justice.

¶ The Man of Law
It is only right that justice be done,
Nor do I know how to defend myself against it.
There is no respite nor pardon from Death;
No one appeals its sentence.
I, who took from others, when I think about it,
Now dread being seized in turn.
The day of vengeance is to be feared:
God will pay everything back in full.

¶ Death
Minstrel, who knows dances and
Melodies and puts on a good show
To give delight to fools and ninnies,
What do you say? Shall we go?
Since you are in my clutches, you must show
The others here some fancy footwork.
It is no use arguing:
The master should show off his expertise.

¶ The Minstrel
I have no desire to dance like this;
I am certainly loath to take part,
For there is no pain worse than Death.
I have hung up my hat and packed up my viol,
I will trill no more sauterelles
Nor other dances; Death keeps me from it.
I must obey:
A man can dance though his heart is not in it.

¶ Death
Come forward, parish priest, without dilly-dallying;
I sense that you have been handed over.
You used to feed off the living and the dead,
But now you will be served up to the worms.
You were once ordained to be
A mirror and example unto others.
You will be requited for your works:
All toil is owed its wages.

¶ The Parish Priest
Like it or not, I must turn myself in;
There is no man whom Death does not assail.
Ah, never again will I collect
My parishioners’ offerings or funeral fees.
I must go before the judge
To give account of myself, wretched and suffering.
Now I fear greatly coming up short:
Happy is he whom God fully acquits.

¶ Death
Laborer, you who have lived out
All your days in care and toil,
You must die — that is for certain.
It is no use drawing back or arguing.
You should be glad to die,
For Death delivers you from great misery.
Come closer, I am waiting for you:
He is a fool who thinks to live forever.

¶ The Laborer
I often wished for Death,
Yet now I would flee it willingly.
I would have preferred to be
Hoeing in the vineyards, come rain or wind;
I would enjoy that work more than ever before,
For fear has got me all turned around.
But now no one can escape this step.
The world holds no eternal rest.

¶ Death
Get a move on, you are in the wrong,
Laborer. You next, Franciscan,
You have often preached about Death,
So you should marvel less at it;
There is no need to act so dismayed.
No one is so mighty as to not get detained by Death;
Thus it is good to be wary of dying.
Death is poised to strike at any time.

¶ The Franciscan
What is it to live in this world?
No man resides there in safety.
All kinds of vanity abounds there,
Then comes Death, who attacks everyone.
Being a mendicant protects me not one bit;
One must pay amends for one’s misdeeds.
God works swiftly;
Wise is the sinner who mends his ways.

¶ Death
Little child newly born,
You will have little joy in the world.
You shall be led to the dance
Like the others, for Death has power
Over all from the day of their birth.
Each must make offering unto Death;
He is a fool who does not realize this.
The more one lives the more one suffers.

¶ The Child
A, A, A, I do not know how to speak.
Being a child, I am mute.
Born yesterday, today I must depart;
I do nothing but enter and exit.
I did no misdeed, but I am wet with fear.
I should take this in stride — that would be best.
God’s decree does not change:
The young die along with the old.

¶ Death
Do you think you can escape Death,
Clerk, desperate to back away?
You must not struggle so.
Many a man who thinks to climb high
Is seen to be abruptly cast back down.
Take it in stride, let us go together,
For it is no use resisting:
God punishes everyone when He sees fit.

¶ The Clerk
Must a young employed clerk,
Who takes pleasure in service,
Thereby hoping to advance himself,
Die so soon? That is harsh.
I am released from ever striving
For any other rank: thus must I dance.
Death has taken me at its convenience;
Much of what a fool thinks remains unrealized.

¶ Death
Clerk, you absolutely must not refuse
To dance; put your best foot forward.
You are not alone — get up —
Therefore you should be less upset about it.
You are next, that is my will,
Man who was raised in a hermitage;
Grief does not befit you.
Life is not granted in perpetuity.

¶ The Hermit
Despite a hard and solitary existence,
Death denies me the opportunity to live.
Everyone sees it, thus one must stop complaining.
Now I pray God that He make me a gift:
That is, that He pardon all my sins.
I am fully satisfied with all His goods,
Which I made use of by His grace.
He who is unsatisfied with what he has, has nothing.

¶ Death responds to him
That is well said, one should talk thus;
No one may be delivered from Death.
He who lives badly will end up with worse,
So everyone should think to live well.
God will weigh everything out exactly;
It is good to think on this night and day.
There is no better wisdom in the book:
We have no tomorrow, none of us.

¶ The dead King eaten by worms
You who in this image
See the different estates dance
Consider what is human nature:
It is nothing more than food for worms.
I am the proof, lying before you,
Though I was a crowned king.
Good or wicked, you will end up the same.
Every estate will be given to the worms.

¶ Doctor Machabre
When you really think about it, man is nothing,
A mere passing thing.
Anyone can see it in this dance.
Therefore you who see the depiction,
Hold it well in your memory,
For it encourages both men and women
To attain the glory of paradise.
He is fortunate who celebrates in the heavens.

¶ The Doctor again
But there are some who pay no heed,
As if there were neither heaven
Nor hell. Alas, they will have a very warm welcome.
The books that the saints wrote long ago
Prove it beautifully.
Pay off your debts, you who pass through here,
And do good works — I say no more.
Good deeds are worth a great deal to the dead.

¶ Angel and Teacher speak:
The Lord created all mortals in light
So they could seize the greatest joys of heaven through their merits.
Happy is that man, at least, who continually directs his mind thither
And wakefully avoids every crime;
Nor is he unhappy, if his evil deed makes him penitent
And if it is his custom to lament for his crime often.
But men live as if no death can pursue them,
And as if Hell were a mere fairy tale,
Though the Sacred Page teaches that living sensations are set free by Death
And it shows the punishments of Erebus.
The man who has no fear of them lives utterly unhappily and mad,
And when he is dead, he will feel the pyre.
So therefore, let every wise man strive to live
Such that the Lake of Hades may not be feared at all.

The end.

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