Dance of the Hanged Men

Dance of the Hanged Men

On the black
gallows, one-armed friend,

the paladins are dancing, dancing;

the lean, the devil’s, paladins;

the skeletons of Saladins.

Sir Beelzebub pulls by the scruff

his little black puppets who grin at the sky,

and with a backhander in the head like a kick,

makes them dance, dance, to an old carol-tune!

And the puppets, shaken about,

entwine their thin arms; their breasts pierced with light,

like black organ-pipes – which once gentle ladies pressed to their own

jostle together protractedly in hideous love-making.

Hurray! The gay dancers, you whose bellies are gone!

You can cut capers on such a long stage!

Hop! Never mind whether it’s fighting or dancing!

– Beelzebub, maddened, saws on his fiddles!

Oh the hard heels! No one’s pumps are wearing out!

And nearly all have taken off their shirts of skins;

the rest is not embarrassing

and all can be seen without shame.

On each skull the snow places a white hat:

the crow acts as a plume for these cracked brains;

a scrap of flesh clings to each lean chin: you would say,

to see them turning in their dark combats,

they were stiff knights clashing pasteboard armour.


The wind whistles at the skeletons’ grand ball!

The black gallows moans like an organ of iron!

The wolves howl back from the violet forests:

and on the horizon the sky is hell-red

Ho there, shake up those funeral braggarts,

craftily telling with their great broken fingers

the beads of their loves on their pale vertebrae:

hey! The departed! This is no monastery here!

Oh but see how from the middle of this Dance of Death

springs into the red sky a great skeleton,

mad, carried away by his own impetus, like a rearing horse:

and feeling the rope tight again round his neck.