Waiting for the Sibyl: Libretto

compiled by William Kentridge

Libretto compiled from original text; lines from poets translated from Finnish, Hebrew, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Russian and German; and renderings of African proverbs.

First curtain

Scene 1

Old Gods have retired
I no longer believe
what I once believed.

Read the word from my motionless lips.
The coincidence demands its hearing
I have brought news
I have forgotten the message.
The moment has gone
Do not complain.
Our Latin cannot understand.

It reminds me of something I can’t remember.
You will be old already
Your hair will have threads of grey.
You will be robbed
You will be robbed of speech.
You will be dreamt by a jackal
You will (for 20 minutes) have great happiness.
It is not enough
(but it is not nothing)
you will be attractive in the way of 1957
You will buy lemons fish, garlic at the market.
Always ready to start afresh tomorrow.

Leave
the half eaten peach
the unused years of your life
the fat on the bone

Resist
frenzied action on behalf of homeless cats.
the third cup of coffee
the third Martini
the stroking of her knees
the smell of the starched shirt

Beware
of the streets after dark
of mobs of secret agents
of insects with moustaches

Discard
all envelopes
medicine bottles
last year’s socks
last year’s hopes

Tie every guilt around your ankle.

Avoid meetings
stadiums
rocks
the heavy spade

It is useless even to beg
to slip past the bullet
not to be born again
not to find your fate

Wait again for better gods
Wait again for better people

 

Curtain (tree to typewriter)

Scene 2 (Office)

When is my turn?
Who will dance the Charleston with me?
Where will I find faith?
Who will remember for me?
Who will remember me?
Where is my kingdom?
Will winter end?
Where can a happy man be found?
How will the day break?

 

Curtain (algorithm)

Scene 3 (human mobile)

Your turn is not next
You have been swindled
You will have a kingdom between 9am and 7pm
You will finish the harbour long after the ship has drowned
Let us be sensible
The radio is faithful to megahertz
Not one of our dreams ever came true
Demand which war it is
Heaven is talking in a foreign tongue
Starve the algorithm
Starve the algorithm

 

Curtain (film)

 

Performing the meaning’s absence
On the reliability of prophets
Heaven is talking in a foreign tongue
We adore other gods now

The machine will remember
The machine will remember for us

You have been swindled
Heaven is talking in a foreign tongue.
The radio is faithful to the megahertz.

The machine
doesn’t tire.
doesn’t drink to excess.
will never toyi-toyi or dance the Charleston.
Wait (once again)
for better gods
for better people.
Resist the greek tragedies.

Machine says
Beware of the age 73
Tomorrow will be cloudy with intermittent sunshine
There will be one happy man in north-eastern Brazil

Machine says
Let us be sensible
Winter will end at 11 am
You will have a kingdom between 9 am and 7 pm
You will always pick stones from the rice
You will finish the harbour long after the ship has drowned
You will call out, I’ve got to go home.

Machine says
Your turn is not next
half your house is still built from your words

Machine says
I know the plots of law enforcers
I do not care
X is usually 9, Y is usually 11
I am not the image of a hero.
I have no mouth

Demand which war it is
Not one of our dreams ever came true.
Starve the algorithm.

 

Scene 4 (Rorschasch)

You know what will happen
Though you cannot predict it
The foolish heart that would love
The wise heart that would forget
You will be led away at dawn
Almost don’t tremble
Evasive action meets the vital strike

 

Curtain (leaf)

Scene 5 (chairs)

A prisoner in the book
Whichever page you open, there you are

The contradiction under the bark.
The tree grows old in the tree.
My father’s books.
A shade 63 years old.
The tree cries out for its leaves.
A prisoner in the garden
The branch dissolves into embers.
Who needs words
(the whispering in the leaves)

 

Curtain (splash)

 

Winter will end at 11 am
Let us be sensible
Your turn is not next
Heaven is talking in a foreign tongue
Fresh graves are everywhere
There will be one happy man in north eastern Brazil
Tomorrow will be cloudy with intermittent sunshine
All the names burnt with the rest

 

SCENE 6 (leaf storm)

 

SCENE 7 (Sibyl’s book 2)

Forget
the smell of Eucalyptus leaves.
the smell of the wind
(as it once was )
Let them think I am a tree
or the shadow of a tree
a doubt
a shadow of a doubt.
There will be no epiphany.
Your days will become years
Your years will become places.
But no place will resist destruction.

The nearer Inferno
The greater Paradiso
The execution site is
never empty.

You will live longer than a horse
but not nearly as long as a crow.

Death grows its tree inside you.
Inside you is lodged the stone
of death

It is too late now.

All you must understand
You will never see that city.
Start dying
assiduously
wisely
optimistically
Waste no time.

All the names
All the names burnt with the rest.
You will be alone on the plain
You will never see that city.

 

Scene 9

Where shall we put our hope?

SLEEP
SLEEP

You have nowhere to go.
Day will break more than once
All so different from what you expected.
But Joy will overtake Fear.
No protection but each others’ limbs
Love will paralyse the joints
The smell of the neck
15 minutes on the soft shoulder
Something has been postponed.

TO WHAT END?

Libretto compiled from original text; lines from poets translated from Finnish, Hebrew, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Russian and German; and renderings of African proverbs.

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