Last summer I received a message from British composer James Weeks, asking permission to use my translation of a poem from Fire in the Soul, the human rights themed anthology I had compiled.
Intrigued, I asked James a bit more about the work he was creating and he replied that this poem and three others from the book would form recited passages in a choral work focusing on oppression and liberation. He explained that he was using texts from the Tenebrae Responsories alongside the poems to create a ‘secular, humanist ritual’ which was ‘concerned with the injustice and oppression of the individual’. This seemed like a perfect match to the themes of the poems and I readily agreed (The Christian liturgy of Tenebrae marks the sacrifice of Jesus for humanity and offers release by way of the symbolic rebirth of spring).
The work, Orlando Tenebrae, is now ready and will get its world premiere performance by the Orlando Chamber Choir on 17 March in London and again on 19 March in Cambridge. It follows the choir’s rendition of the 16th century composer Orlande de Lassus’s austere Tenebrae Responsories.
As for the poem in question? It was by the Chinese poet Wu Mei who had taken part in the Tiananmen Square protests for democracy in 1989, which subsequently turned into a massacre. As the desire to shake off authoritarian regimes is erupting across the world again, its words seem particularly poignant. Here it is in full:
by Wu MeiWhat shall we agree?
That we shall see each other again.
Where shall that be?
Where they let us.
What shall we do?
Whatever occurs to us.
What do we want?
What we have always wanted.
What we thought and weren’t allowed to say.
What we saw but weren’t allowed to see.
What we hoped for but didn’t happen.
What we were and are no longer.
What shall we agree?
That we’ll be there.
The other poems used in Orlando Tenebrae are by Adonis, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Visar Zhiti.