German for "Death and the maiden".
A poem by Mat(t)hias Claudius,
written ca. 1775 under the pseudonym Asmus,
an imaginary dialogue between a maiden on her deathbed
and Death itself. The maiden is afraid to die and begs Death
to spare her; Death tries to comfort her, and promises
her a peaceful sleep. Claudius was known to be a
pious Christian, which also had a major influence
on his works, so it seems likely that it was meant as
comfort in the face of death by the promise of an
afterlife. However, as is often the case
with good art, I find that it lends itself well to a number
of differing views;
read it and find your favorite one!
Vorüber! Ach vorüber!
Geh wilder Knochenmann!
Ich bin noch jung, geh Lieber!
Und rühre mich nicht an!
Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebild!
Ich bin dein Freund und komme nicht zu strafen.
Sei guten Muts! Ich bin nicht wild,
Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen!
Below is my translation; I have tried to keep the
spirit of the words, and as as much of the structure
of the sentences as seemed feasible; this might make
the result harder to understand.
Past me! oh past me!
walk, fierce reaper!
I am still young, go dear!
And do not touch me!
Give me your hand, fair and tender thing!
I am your friend and do not come to punish.
Be of good cheer! I am not fierce,
you shall sleep gently in my arms!
Franz Schubert composed a song with piano accompaniment
(D 531) to this poem in 1817. He later
cited that music in his famous
String Quartet D 810 in d minor
(which deserves its own writeup); therefore, this quartet is
also sometimes called "Death and the Maiden".
The basic premise of Death and the Maiden was already
present as a motive in art a long time before, and
has been used afterwards. I will provide two examples
as humble shards of context:
The first is a painting by
Hans Baldung Grien, a disciple of Albrecht Dürer's, of
the same title, painted in 1517. It depicts a young woman
standing in the nude, her body deathly pale, with her
hands folded entreatingly.
Only her face is of sanguine color, but has an expression
of despair. Tears are running down her cheeks.
Behind her, Death is depicted as a brown, decayed
corpse, reminiscent of a mummy. His right hand points
to the ground. With his left, he grasps the woman by
In the renaissance
period, paintings in this style seem to have been relatively
common. Grien himself painted more than one.
Second, I want to mention an etching by Edvard Munch
from 1894 called "Piken og døden" (which is Norwegian
for "Girl and Death"). It shows a young woman, again
the nude, embracing and kissing Death, represented by
a skeleton, passionately. Munch also did a quite similar