Libretto

I. RENUNCIATION (PRELUDIUM)

All

Canticle I.

He wakes from a prolonged delirium, swears
He has seen the face of God.
God help all those whose fever never raged
Or has subsided.

I need nothing.
I feel nothing.
I desire nothing.

II. LET’S START

Soprano
Let's start right at the very beginning. What were the circumstances of your birth, your early upbringing?

Baritone
Wole Soyinka: I was born into a Christian household, in a parsonage in fact, so I grew up in sort of a missionary atmosphere but it was an environment which involved both the traditional religions as well as the Muslim religion, so we were exposed to all the various facets of faith, micro cultures which existed within those beliefs, and even though I've lost whatever Christian faith was drummed into me as a child, I still maintain very good relationships with all the various religions.

III. PERCHED ON CHURCH STEEPLE

All

Canticle II.

Perched on church steeple, minaret, cupola
Smug as misericords, gleeful as gargoyles
On gables of piety, the vampire acolyte
Waits to leap from private hell
To all four compass points—but will not voyage alone.
His variant on the doctored coin reads: Come with me or --
Go to—hell!

IV. I INTEND TO BE BLUNT

Baritone
Today’s event may yet make a Christian out of me – since, from my admittedly imperfect recollection of the Christian bible – somewhere, it is written: to him who hath, even more shall be given. Today, I am setting aside all objections.
I intend to be blunt. When you live in an environment of the progressive insemination of fear as an agency of faith, it is no time for palliatives of speech and timorous euphemisms. As the poet Langston Hughes, a product of generations of intolerance, observes in one of his poems: “There is no lavender word for ‘lynch’.

V. I SHALL RAM PEBBLES IN MY MOUTH

Men

I shall ram pebbles in my mouth
Demosthenes
Not to choke, but half dolphin, half
Men
Shark hammerhead from fathoms deep
Ride the waves to charge the breakers
They erect,
Crush impediments of power and inundate
Their tainted towers –
I shall ram pebbles in my mouth.

VI. ARMED WITH BOOK AND BEARD

All

Canticle VI.& XII.

It was his own kind, nailed
Yitzak Rabin to crossroads of the Orient
Arms extended to the Heights
Of peace. Across the Suez, the ghost
Of his precursor on the viewing stand
Watched the grim replay of a familiar reel.
The cleric swears he’ll sweep the streets clean
Of the unclean, armed with Book and Beard. Both
Turn kindling, but overturn the law of physics.
For the fire consumes all but the arsonist.

VII. THE WRITING ON THE WALL

Soprano
The writing on the wall is no longer a mere biblical metaphor, it refers graphically today to the spattered grafitti of blood on the walls of our homesteads, schools, offices, sanctuaries of worship and children’s nurseries. That writing is the universal language of nations, on the road to perdition.

Mezzo
Permit me to recall an exercise in a minor key

Duet
did we fail to learn,
that guns and boots
are not essential to
a coup d'etat.

VIII. I SHALL PLACE NETTLES ON MY TONGUE

Women

I shall place nettles on my tongue
Demosthenes
Then thwart its stung retraction. Oh,
Let it burn at root and roof
Let rashes break from every pore
Just so it sear the tyrant´s power
With one discharge
I shall place nettles on my tongue.

IX. SEEK HAVENS OF PEACE ON OCEAN FLOOR

All

Canticle IX.
The meek shall inherit the earth ...
Blessed are the peacemakers ...
Shalom ... Shalom ... Shalom ...
Irosu wonrin, irosu wonrin.

Salaam ailekum, ailekum
Shanti ... shanti ... shanti ...
Oom ... oom ... oom ... ooom ...

Mezzo/Baritone
Seek havens of peace on ocean floors,
Submarine depths, in lost worlds, black holes
Collapsed galaxies, in hermit caves
In jungle fastnesses and arctic wastes
Thorns of crowns and hairy shirts, beds of nails,
The saintly cheek that turns the other side, but—
Not in texts, not by learned rote. It’s there
The unmeek prove inheritors of the earth.

All

They are the scripture grooms, possessive
To the last submissive dot. Punctilious
Guards of annotations, they sleepwalk blind to all
But the fatal hiatus:
Boom for oom and—sword for Word.
What is missing is—fulfilled!

X. THE DOG IN DOGMA

Soprano

… you cyst, you cyst, splint in the arrow of arrogance, the dog in dogma, the tick of a heretic, the tick in politics, the mock of democracy, the mar of marxism the tic of a fanatic, the boo in buddhism, the ham in Mohammed, the dash in the criss-cross of Christ, a dot in the I of ego an ass in the mass, the ash in ashram, a boot in kibbutz, the pee of priesthood, the peepee of perfect priesthood, oh how dare you raise your hindquarters you dog of dogma and cast the scent of your existence on the lamp-post of destiny you HOLE IN THE ZERO of NOTHING!

All

Hraagrh hraagrh hraagrh … ptuh – splat!
Pig!
Hraagrh hraagrh hraagrh … ptuh – splat!
Pig!
Hraaaaaagrrrrh hraaaaagrrrhaaaarrh…ptuh – splat!
Vile heathen pig!

XI. I AM RIGHT, YOU ARE DEAD.

Baritone

I am right, you are wrong.
I am right, you are dead.

XII. I SHALL PLACE WEREPE ON EVERY TONGUE

Men

But have you heard of werepe
Demosthenes?
Not all your Stoics´ calm can douse
The fiery hairs of that infernal pod.
It makes a queen run naked to the world
An itch that tells the world its flesh
Is whorish sick –
I shall place werepe on every tongue.   

XIII. I TURNED TO STONE

Mezzo
Time vanished. I turned to stone. The world retreated into fumes of swampland.
I am alone with sounds. They acquire a fourth dimension.
The body achieves, of course, true weightlessness. I am blown about by the lightest breeze, by the
lightest lyrical thought or metaphor. Layer by layer, layer by layer.

All

I need nothing.
I feel nothing.
I desire nothing.

XIV. THE MAN DIES

Clarinet/Quartet

XV. I’LL DROP SOME RATSBANE ON MY TONGUE

Men

I´ll drop some ratsbane on my tongue
Demosthenes
To bait the rodents with a kiss of death
I´ll seal their fate in tunnels dark and dank
As habitations of their hostages
Denied of air, denied of that same light
Their hands had cupped to immerse their world
I´ll drop some ratsbane on my tongue.

Women

I´ll thrust all fingers down the throat
Demosthenes
To raise a spout of bile to drown the world.
It´s petrified, Demosthenes, mere forms,
Usurp the heaters we knew, mere rasps.
This stuttering does not become the world,
This tongue of millions fugitive from truth –

I´ll let the hemlock pass
Demosthenes
Oh, not between my lip – I´ve shared
At one with that agnostic sage. throats
Its thin dissolve in myriad

All

They did not stutter like the world they left –
And I know why –
Their lives were spent with heated pebbles
On their tongues, Demosthenes!

XVI. THE 13TH CANTICLE

All

...and a thirteenth for the merely superstitious.
This thirteenth canticle for you, and let
Ill-luck infest your dreams awhile, stress your fears.
Not one but both—Friday and thirteen
Joined to press the entry of my world
Onto your calendar. Would I could boast
A triple six, a Grand Slam by Satan’s reckoning—
I would have long submerged the world
In cosmic laughter!

XVII. WHERE ARE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

Soprano/Women

From a distant
Shore they cry, Where
Are all the flowers gone?
I cannot tell
The gardens here are furrowed still and bare.

Garlands
Of scavengers weigh
Heavy on human breasts
Such
Are flowers that fill the garden of decay

I saw:
Four steel kites, riders
On shrouded towers
Do you think
Their arms are spread to scatter mountain flowers

Take Justice
In your hands who can
Or dare. Insensate sword
Of Power
Out-herods Herod and the law’s outlawed.

XVIII. BI O TI WA

Mezzo/Soprano/All

Now – As Ever Shall Be …
Bi o ti wa
Ni yio se wa
Bi o ti wa
Ni yio se wa
Bi o ti wa l’atete kose …
Even as it was
So shall it be
Even as it was
So shall it be
Even as it was at the beginning of the act …

XIX. BI O TI WA L’ATETE KOSE… 

String Quartet/Clarinet

XVIII. BI O TI WA

All

The meek shall inherit the earth ...
Blessed are the peacemakers ...
Shalom ... Shalom ... Shalom ...
Irosu wonrin, irosu wonrin.
Salaam ailekum, ailekum
Shanti ... shanti ... shanti ...
Oom ... oom ... oom ... ooom ...

Baritone

What is on fire today is not only within the mind, but the very nation space in which we all draw breath. Look left and right, check morning and night and you stumble on new minted issues that drain your vitality and compress the mind’s scope of functioning.

We must learn to identify the camouflage of power. Secular or theocratic, that camouflage must be ripped wide open so that the real contender – the latest, smirking, unctuous face of Power in whatever guise, is exposed, and neutralised.

Only then shall we have truly fulfilled our existence and deserved our Freedom, only then would we have concluded our final assignation with – History.

Sources

I. RENUNCIATION (PRELUDIUM)

Canticle I. from “Twelve Canticles for a Zealot”

II. LET’S START

Excerpt from an interview with Wole Soyinka by Simon Stanford, 28 April       2005.

III. PERCHED ON CHURCH STEEPLE

Canticle II. from “Twelve Canticles for a Zealot.”

IV. I INTEND TO BE BLUNT

Opening statement from lecture delivered upon receipt of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize For Leadership, 6 March, 2013.

V. I SHALL RAM PEBBLES IN MY MOUTH

“Ah, Demosthenes!” from “Two Poems for the Pen.”

VI. ARMED WITH BOOK AND BEARD

Canticles VI. & XII. from “Twelve Canticles for a Zealot.”

VII. THE WRITING ON THE WALL

First part: From a speech delivered at the second South-South Economic Summit in Asaba, Delta State, 26 April, 2012. Printed in The Nation, May 5, 2012.

Second part (“did we fail to learn…”: From "Elegy for a Nation (For Chinua      Achebe at 70)."

VIII. I SHALL PLACE NETTLES ON MY TONGUE

“Ah, Demosthenes!”

IX. SEEK HAVENS OF PEACE ON OCEAN FLOOR

Canticle IX. from “Twelve Canticles for a Zealot”

X. THE DOG IN DOGMA

From Madmen and Specialists and The Man Died

XI. I AM RIGHT, YOU ARE DEAD

From Soyinka’s article "Power and Freedom/I Am Right; You are Dead," New England Journal of Public Policy, April 2005.

XII. I SHALL PLACE WEREPE ON EVERY TONGUE

“Ah, Demosthenes!”

XIII. I TURNED TO STONE

From The Man Died

XV. I’LL DROP SOME RATSBANE ON MY TONGUE

“Ah, Demosthenes!”

XVI. THE 13TH CANTICLE

From “Twelve Canticles for a Zealot”

XVII. WHERE ARE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

 Excerpts from “Flowers For My Land,” printed in A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972)

XVIII. BI O TI WA

From Madmen and Specialists

XX. ON FIRE TODAY

Choral part (“The meek…”): from “Twelve Canticles for a Zealot”

 Solo part (“What is on fire today…”): from lecture delivered upon receipt of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize For Leadership, 6 March, 2013.

 

“Ah, Demosthenes!” from “Two Poems for the Pen.” Published in Index on Censorship, vol. 28, 2, 3/1/99. Taylor & Francis,Ltd.Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Taylor & Francis Ltd.

"Elegy for a Nation (For Chinua Achebe at 70)", printed in Maple Tree Literary Supplement (MTLS) in 2013 (Issue #15, May - Aug 2013 ISSN 1916-341X). Used by permission of publisher (MTLS).

Speech delivered at the second South-South Economic Summit in Asaba, Delta State, 26 April, 2012. Used by permission of The Nation, Vintage Press Limited.

"Power and Freedom/I Am Right; You are Dead," New England Journal of Public Policy: Vol. 19 : Issue 2, 2005, Article 24. Used by permission of the New England Journal of Public Policy.

"Transcript from an interview with Wole Soyinka." Copyright © Nobel Media AB (2005). Used by permission of Nobel Media AB.

“Twelve Canticles for a Zealot.” Copyright © 2002 by Wole Soyinka. From Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known (Methuen). Used by permission of Melanie Jackson Agency, LLC.