Death and The Maiden


I’ve always seen artwork with the title “Death and The Maiden” that I liked a lot, but never really knew if it had a history or what it was from so I decided to find out and thought I’d share..

“Death and the Maiden” was originally a short poem in two parts by Matthias Claudius (1740-1815).

The first part is the maiden, a scared young girl, anxious at the thought of dying. 

The second part is Death himself, calming and welcoming her, a “consoling serenade” telling her not to be afraid.

I found 2 english translations of the poem –

-The Maiden:

“It’s all over! alas, it’s all over now!

Go, savage man of bone!

 I am still young – go, devoted one!

 And do not molest me.”


 “Give me your hand, you fair and tender form!

I am a friend; I do not come to punish.

Be of good cheer! I am not savage.

You shall sleep gently in my arms.”


-The Maiden:

“Pass me by! Oh, pass me by!

Go, fierce man of bones!

I am still young! Go, rather,

And do not touch me.

And do not touch me.”


“Give me your hand, you beautiful and tender form!

I am a friend, and come not to punish.

Be of good cheer! I am not fierce,

Softly shall you sleep in my arms!”


Besides art, it’s been used in or made into music, literature, plays, and even a movie. Noted as the most famous example is a quartet made by Franz Schubert who was considered one of the greatest composers of German Lied (pronounced Leed) in 1825 and here’s a ‘video’ of the haunting music:

Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert

He eventually became ill, both mentally and physically, this is an excerpt from a letter he wrote: 

“I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world.

Imagine a man whose health will never be right again and who in their despair over this ever makes things worse and worse, instead of better;

imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have come to nothing, to whom the joy of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain, at best, whose enthusiasm (at least of the stimulating kind) for all things beautiful threatens to vanish, and ask yourself, is he not a miserable, unhappy being?

My peace is gone, my heart is sore; I shall never find peace again, never again.

I may well sing this every day now,

for each night, I go to bed hoping never to wake again,

and each morning only tells me of yesterday’s grief.”

Death and The Maiden
Death and The Maiden

And here’s some other examples of the music: 

The Borrormeo Quartet – 

Death and The Maiden
Death and The Maiden

The Alban Berg Quartet – 

and that’s a short history behind those Death and The Maiden pics. If you were interested like I was, now you know.

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