The dance of death (ballad)

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The dance of death , drawing by Ernst Barlach , 1924

The dance of death is a ballad by Johann Wolfgang Goethe from 1813 .


The seven-stanza ballad is about the rising of the undead from their graves to come together at midnight for a hellish dance.

Text excerpt:

The tower keeper, who looks
down on the graves in Lage in the middle of the night ;
The moon has brought everything into light:
the churchyard, it lies like daytime.
A grave stirs and then another:
They come out, a woman there, a man,
in white and dragging shirts.

That stretches now, it wants to get excited immediately,
The ankles to the round, to the wreath,
So poor and so young, and so old and so rich,
But the trains prevent the dance.
And because shame has stopped here,
you all shake yourself,
your little shirts are scattered over the hills.


Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote this ballad around 1813 while fleeing from the unrest after the Napoleonic Wars, while traveling to Teplitz . From there he mailed the ballad to his son August . He had the work printed and published in 1815. Ernst Barlach illustrated the ballad around 1924.

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