THE DANCE OF THE DEAD
by: Johann Wolfgang von
- HE warder
he gazes o' the night
- On the graveyards under him lying,
- The moon into clearness throws all by her light,
- The night with the daylight is vying.
- There's a stir in the graves, and forth from their tombs
- The form of a man, then a woman next looms
- In garments long trailing and snowy.
- They stretch themselves out, and with eager delight
- Join the bones for the revel and dancing --
- Young and old, rich and poor, the lady and the knight,
- Their trains are a hindrance to dancing.
- And since here by shame they no longer are bound,
- They shuffle them off, and lo, strewn lie around
- Their garments on each little hillock.
- Here rises a shank, and a leg wobbles there
- With lewd diabolical gesture;
- And clatter and rattle of bones you might hear,
- As of one beating sticks to a measure.
- This seems to the warder a laughable game:
- Then the tempter, low whispering, up to him came:
- "In one of their shrouds go and wrap thee."
- 'Twas done soon as said; then he gained in wild flight
- Concealment behind the church portal,
- The moon all the while throws her bright beams of light
- On the dance where they revel and sport all.
- First one, then another, dispersed all are they,
- And donning their shrouds steal the spectres away,
- And under the graves all is quiet.
- But one of them stumbles and fumbles along,
- 'Midst the tombstones groping intently;
- But none of his comrades have done him this wrong,
- His shroud in the breeze 'gins to scent he.
- He rattles the door of the tower, but can find
- No entrance -- good luck to the warder behind! --
- 'Tis barred with blest crosses of metal.
- His shroud must he have, or rest can he ne'er;
- And so, without further preambles,
- The old Gothic carving he grips then and there,
- From turret to pinnacle scrambles.
- Alas for the warder! all's over, I fear;
- From buttress to buttress in dev'lish career
- He climbs like a long-legged spider.
- The warder he trembles, and pale doth he look,
- That shroud he would gladly be giving,
- When piercing transfixed it a sharp-pointed hook!
- He thought his last hour he was living.
- Clouds cover already the vanishing moon,
- With thunderous clang beats the clock a loud One --
- Below lies the skeleton, shattered.
MORE POEMS BY GOETHE
John Storer Cobb's English translation
of 'The Dance of the Dead' was first published in Goethe:
Poetical Works, vol. 1. Boston: Francis A Niccolls &