Ploughman and Death, by Johannes von Tepl (c. 1350 – c. 1415) ♥♥♥♥♥

I am a Husbandman by name, my plough is of bird’s-clothing,1 and I live in the land of Bohemia.You have committed irretrievable robbery on me!

If you are a Husbandman, living in the land of Bohemia, then it seems to Us that you do Us a heavy injustice, for We have done no conclusive work in that land for a long time – recently, only in a solid, handsome town, securely situated on a mountain; four letters of the alphabet – the 18th, the 1st, the 3rd and the 23rd – weave its name. We performed our act of grace on a respectable, blessed young lady there; her letter was the twelfth. She was virtuous and free from blemish; for We were present at her birth.She was pure of conscience, assiduous, faithful, honest, and supremely gracious to one and all. –Verily, so gentle and constant a nature has seldom come into Our hands. Perhaps this is the one you mean.

Yes, sir, I was her loving spouse, and she my sweetheart. You took her away, the joy-filled feast for my eyes: she is gone.

We will prove that We weigh justly, judge justly, and act justly in the world: We spare none for the title, take no heed of great knowledge, pay no regard to any form of beauty, and do not blink at the sight of talent, love, sorrow, age, youth or other qualities. We do as the sun, who shines over good and evil: We take good and evil into Our power. All those masters who can compel spirits must commit and relinquish their spirit to Us; the necromancers and magicians cannot withstand Us, and their riding on sticks, their riding on goats, helps them nought. The doctors who lengthen the lives of men must come to our shared shore: roots, herbs, ointments, and manifold apothecatical powders cannot help them.

If you imagine, foolish man, if you consider, and chisel into your reason with a burin, then you will find: if We had not eradicated, since the time when the first man was worked from clay, the growth and increase of humans on Earth, of beasts and worms in the barren wastes and wild woods, of scale-bearing, slippery fishes in the waters – then no one would now exist for gnats, no one would venture out for wolves, each man would guzzle another, each beast another, each living creature another, for they would lack food, and the Earth would be too narrow for them.

Senseless people name evil good, call good evil. As you are doing. You accuse Us of passing false judgement: you do Us injustice. We shall prove this to you. You ask who We are: We are God’s handle.You ask what We are: We are nothing, and yet something. Nothing, because We have neither life, nor being, nor form, and We are no spirit, not visible, not tangible; something, because We are the end of life, the end of existence, the beginning of nullity, a cross between the two. We are a happening that fells all people. Huge giants must fall before Us; all living beings must be transformed by Us. You ask where We are: We are not ascertainable.You ask where We are: We are from the Earthly Paradise. God created Us there and gave Us Our true name, when he said: “The day that ye bite of this fruit, ye shall die the death.”You ask what good We do: you have already heard that We bring the world more advantage than harm. Now cease, rest content, and thank Us for the kindness we have done you!

Now listen, and make sure that this sinks in: life is created for the sake of Death. If life were not, We would not be, and Our business were nought; nor would the world order exist.

After joy sorrow, after love grief: such is the way of this Earth. Joy and grief must always be bound together. The end of one is where the other begins. Grief and joy are nothing other than a man grasping a thought and refusing to release it;

Drive the remembrance of love from your heart, from your senses, from your mind, and at once you will be relieved from sorrow! The moment you have lost something you cannot regain, make as if it had never been yours! And your sorrow will instantly leave.

She may be dead to me in body; she is ever living in my mind.

A human is conceived in sin, nourished with impure, unspeakable feculence in the maternal body, born naked and smeared like a beehive; a mass of refuse, a churn of filth, a dish for worms, a stinkhouse, a repulsive washtub, a rancid carcass, a mildewed crate, a bottomless sack, a perforated pocket, a bellows, a rapacious maw, a reeking flagon of urine, a malodorous pail, a deceptive marionette-show, a loamy robber’s den, an insatiably slaking trough, a painted delusion. Let recognise who will: every human created to completion has nine holes in his body; out of all these there flows such repellent filth that nothing could be more impure. You would never see human beauty, if you had the eyes of a lynx, and your gaze could penetrate to the innards; you would shudder at the sight. Strip the dressmaker’s colouring from the loveliest of ladies, and you will see a shameful puppet, a hastily withering flower, a sparkle of little durance and a soon decomposing clod of earth! Show me a handful of beauty of all the belles who lived a hundred years ago, excluding those painted on the wall, and you shall have the Kaiser’s crown!

Pah to you, you evil sack of shame! How you destroy, maltreat, and dishonour noble mankind, God’s dearest creation, thereby reviling divinity! Now, for the first time, I see that you are mendacious and not created in Paradise as you claimed.Now if man were as despicable, evil and impure as you say, then truly, God would have worked an unclean and futile act. Had God’s omnipotent Hand created so impure and ordurous a work of man as you say, He were a shameful Creator. And it would not be true that God had created all things, and man over them all, wonderfully well.Let go, Sir Death! you are the enemy of man: that is why you speak him ill.

She can deceive, outwit, flatter, concoct, caress, grouch, laugh and weep in the blink of an eye; she was born that way. Sick for work, but healthy for lust; and tame or wild, as suits her purpose. She needs no advisor to find an argument. All the time she strains not to do that which she is bidden, and to do what is forbidden. This is too sweet for her, and that is too sour; this is too much, and that is too little; now it is too early, now it is too late – everything is met with a reproach.

For you do not know that everything of this world is either desire of the flesh, or desire of the eyes, or pride in life. Desire of the flesh aims at lust; desire of the eyes at possessions or estate; and pride in life at honour. Possessions bring greed, lust causes lewdness and lechery, and honour brings arrogance and boastfulness. Possessions will lead to desire and fear, lust to malice and sin, and honour to vanity.

All humans are inclined more to evil than good. When someone does do good nowadays, he is acting from fear of Us. All people, and all their activity, are full of vanity. Your body, your wife, your children, your honour, your belongings, and all you possess, all flees away; it disappears in a moment; it drifts away in the wind, neither shine nor shadow can remain.

Oh, mortal man is always in fear, in affliction, in sorrow, in care, in dread, in terror, in days of pain, in days of sickness, in sadness, in mourning, in misery, in grief and in multeity of irritations; and the more worldly wealth a man has, the more annoyances he encounters. And this is the greatest of all, that a human cannot know when, where and how We shall suddenly overfall him and drive him the way of all flesh.


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