Sunday, 24 February 2008

Grim Reaper

Here's a site with horrible design, embedded music, and over 400 classical images of Death. I guess the Grim Reaper is the ultimate 'dead person who never lived'... if you consider Death to be dead, that is. I suppose by most standards of Death, he's actually very much alive.

The Grim Reaper's like the AntiSanta - we've never seen him, and we know one person could never logically serve so many people... and yet part of us sees the evidence of his work and longs to believe. There's something comforting about making Death a chap. I guess that the Reaper has been so appropriated and commercialised and parodied that he actually feels safe and familiar. When you cheapen something, it doesn't hurt so much.

The Dance of Death

trans. Peter Low

Zigger-zigger-zig tapping on a coffin
Death has got a beat and a toothy grin.
At the stroke of twelve plays a crazy polka
zigger-zigger-zag on his violin.

The night is dark, the winter winds blow
the tree-branches creak in the stormy clouds
and off the whitened skeletons go
they skip and they leap in their flowing shrouds.

Zigger-zigger-zig how they frisk and toss
dancing to the beat rattling every bone.
Now a lustful pair sit down on the moss
hoping to repeat pleasures they had known.

Zigger-zigger-zag Death is keeping at it
scraping out the tune on his violin.
Two have lost their veils they are dancing naked
he gives her a squeeze like a carnal sin.

The lady they say is of noble race
her partner a lad from the market town
but oh! she welcomes his embrace
as if the young boor had a royal crown.

Zigger-zigger-zig hand in hand a-dancing
what a host of dead risen from the turf
zigger-zigger-zag in that ghostly party
is the king himself romping with a serf.

But hush! all at once their hands let go.
They jostle, they flee they've heard the cock crow.
How lovely that night when poor folk are free!
So all praise to Death and equality!


Eva Datta said...

The Danse Macabre! I loved this when I was a kid. Saint Saens put this to music, late 1800s- I think it was originally a nursery rhyme, or a little folk story to scare children with. The "zigger-zigs" are meant to be the sound that Death makes on his violin as he encourages all the spirits to rise from their graves and dance until the dawn of All Souls Day.
It was said that the piece properly terrified audiences when it was first performed. Some ghostly highlights are the opening chimes signalling midnight, a chord nicknamed the "Devil's Chord" (proper name: tritone) on violins and some erratic glockenspiel accents which represented the bones of the little skeletons knocking together when they danced. One giant deathly in-joke. Gruesome, but very clever. It scared people so much that Saint-Saens' mate (Liszt) had to rearrange it on piano for public consumption the following year.

Not only is Death a chap, he's a waltzing skeleton with some rather nifty fiddle skills. Now if that's not more comforting than the unknown, I don't know what is.

Nick Holloway said...

Zigger-zig-ah. Are the Spice Girls the latest incarnation of death? Just one of them perhaps... but which? The rest are apocalyptic horseman of one shade or another. Posh = Famine, for sure.

Ross Sutherland said...

Geri is War. Isn't she on the UN council?

I really want a poem on death as anti-santa. please somebody write this for me!