German for "Death and the maiden".

A poem by Mat(t)hias Claudius, written ca. 1775 under the pseudonym Asmus, about 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!

Das Mädchen:
Vorüber! Ach vorüber!
Geh wilder Knochenmann!
Ich bin noch jung, geh Lieber!
Und rühre mich nicht an!

Der Tod:
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.

The maiden:
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 her hair.

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 standing in the nude, embracing and kissing Death, represented by a skeleton, passionately. Munch also did a quite similar painting.

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