Debussy’s The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian

An English translation of the text of Debussy's mystic work, conducted on the February BBC Music Magazine cover CD by Thierry Fischer

Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian


The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
Gentle people, a moment of silence!
Find yourself in the presence
of God, as in prayer:
because here you will know, by mystery,
the most holy suffering
of this young martyr
who draws his everlasting youth
from the fountain of his blood.
Very gentle people, hear sounds and songs.
We ask, in the name of
Saint Denis and the Oriflamme.
Then look how blue the sky is,
How red the blood, in the name of God,
For the salvation of your soul.
First Mansion
The Court of Lilies
The Twins, Mark and Marcellian
Brother, what will the world be like without our love?
In my soul, your heart lies heavy
like a stone in a catapult.
I feel its weight; I throw it from the darkness towards the light
Brother, what will the world be like without our love?
I was gentler than the dove,
You are redder than the surroundings.
Always, never! Never, always!
Iron does not scare you, fire cannot tame me.
Beloved Christ, what will the world be like without our love?
Narrator (the Saint)
If I am worthy to serve your Son, the Martyr of martyrs;
If I am given from the Lord Christ
this stigmata of his pain
in my strong hand
Adonai, God of the invincible cohorts,
grant, grant, this prayer, which is sharpened
by the iron of the last arrow.
I aim.
My God, If I am worthy,
I ask you to give me a sign.
       We no longer see the arrow!
       It’s going to fall!
       No, it doesn’t fall!
       The arrow does not fall.
Glory, O Christ the King
And now I disarm myself!
I am the Archer with a sure aim.
Remember, I am the target.
Remember that terrible hope
and that I will be worthy to ask God for the most dazzling signs.
Chorus (The archers of Emesa)
Sebastian! Sebastian! Sebastian!
Narrator (the Saint)
My brothers, my brothers, I hear
The melody of holy combat,
The divine choir of the seven scourges,
The annunciation of the heavens,
And the march of the new god
Alongside the new man,
And the ends of the earth
Trembling like the edges of a banner unfurling,
And the thunder in the tombs which unites
Dead souls to their bones.
Chorus (The archers of Emesa)
Sebastian! Sebastian! Sebastian!
You are a witness!
Narrator (The Saint)
Blow, Blow,
Quickly, with the forge’s bellows!
So that the flame shoots up, so that the sparks
Fly like intoxicated bees, so that the fervour becomes
Seven times more fervent, O Archers,
Archers, if you ever loved me!
I would have bare feet and legs,
Like the agile grape-picker
Who learns to tread the red grapes
In the steaming bowl!
I will dance higher, higher
Than the flame, seven times higher,
I say to you.
Killers, see, I disarm myself.
I put down my bow, throw my arrow behind me,
give up my harness. See, I shimmer with joy like at the start of a battle when the spirits in my heart jangle like the spears in the quiver.
I am ready, I am ready!
My feet are bare for the dew of Christ,
And my knees are bare for the wonderful transformation.
O Gemini, harmonious sound of the double flute, arms of the great lyre,
Sing the glory of Christ,
Brothers, what would the world be without our love?
Oh sweet miracle, sweet miracle!
The lily! The lily!
Ecstatic Dance of Sebastian on the Live Coals
The Twins, chorus
Sing praises, all the shadows are fading.
God is and always will be God.
Celebrate his name with fire.
Sing of his gracious works.
Praise his works in all places
Spread his mysterious name.
Narrator (the Saint)
I dance in the heat of the burning lilies.
Glory, O Christ the King!
I tread in the whiteness of the lilies.
Glory, O Christ the King!
I press the soft lilies.
Glory, O Christ the King!
My feet are naked in the dew!
I love you, King.
It is as if my soul
Were made with willow leaves,
It is as if my veins
Were made of music and the dawn!
It’s as if I were shaking off
A frost of sonorous stars.
I love you, King.
Chorus Seraphicus
Hail! O Light,
light of the world,
Cross, broad and deep,
Sign of victory,
And palm of glory,
And tree of life!
Narrator (the Saint)
I hear another song.
I hear the seven eternal lutes.
The lilies produce all the light,
They compose the whole melody.
You cut them back, and they re-grow.
You break them, they rise again.
Their stem is imperishable.
See, see! They look at me
Like angels covering their eyes
For the terrified.
Chorus Seraphicus
Here are the seven witnesses of God,
Who lead the passionate fighters.
All the heavens sing!
Second Mansion
The Magic Chamber
Narrator (The Saint)
I’ve found the exit. The byways
Are unclear. Don’t stray!
The gates! The gates! I am going
to tear them off their sealed hinges.
Who are you? You are
Shackled to the work of charmers,
The Virgin Erigone
I was mowing the ears of corn,
Forgetting the asphodel.
My soul, under the mild skies,
Was sister of the swallow;
My shadow was like a wing,
Which I trailed in the harvested fields,
And I was the Virgin,
faithful to my shadow and my song.
Narrator (the Saint)
Guardian of the closed gate, enchanted creature, listen!
I want you to open for me.
Phantom, phantom of charms, I call on you.
I will break down the gate; and the King of glory will enter.
Unknown messenger, created
Or not created,
I salute you. I bow before you.
I vouch for my spirit; I vouch for my
Eternal love. Unseal
the cross of your arms and
reveal the imprint of the Divine Body.
See his bloodstained body,
See the horror of his torture!
Alas, cry, cry for your crimes!
He was killed for our sins.
God, make us the same as your body!
God, come back to us in death!
Love, that I will be sated!
Lord Love, here is my life.
Vox Coelestis
Who cries for my child so sweet,
my lily, born in pure flesh?
He is radiant on my knees,
He is without blemish or injury.
See. And in my hair
All the stars praise his clarity.
From his face he illuminates
my sorrow and the summer night.
Third Mansion
The Council of the False Gods
Narrator (the Saint)
César, I already have my crown,
I don’t fear iron.
I have no other art than prayer.
César, know that I have chosen my god.
Only Christ shines, the Unique One!
With his hand he governs the force of
the empty skies like the sailor
controls the sail.
Between you and the day, he is there.
Between you and the dead sun,
He is there, the Unique One.
Musicians (zither players)
Paean, Golden Lyre, Silver Bow.
Lord of Delos and of Sminthe,
Great king crowned with light,
Paean! O Apollo!
Narrator (the Saint)
Stop! Stop,
O zither players,
Celebrating a demon who no longer has a chariot,
Nor arrows, who no more has the nerves
for the lyre and the bow, no more
crown to hide his shame. Silence! Silence!
César, listen to the other lyre.
I will not sing my praises.
Ah! I have too much love on my lips
To sing; and my heart strangles me
Until I can hear it no more. That he would remember you, César!
For your wise men and your believers.
I will dance the passion
Of this young Asiatic man,
Of this tortured prince;
César, look. And remember
The star which was nailed to the living heart of the heavens,
as a token of
the radiant word
spoken by the Anointed One.
You will know this.
Narrator (the Saint)
Have you seen him, the one who I love?
Have you seen him?
Then he said: ‘My soul is sorrowful
until death. Rest here
And watch.’ And he knelt
and prayed. ‘Take this cup from me, Lord.
Nevertheless, not as I want,
But how you want.’
The Women of Byblos
Ah! You weep for the beloved!
You weep for the archer of Lebanon.
O sisters! O brothers!
Alas! You weep for Adonis!
He is dying, the beautiful Adonis!
He is dead, the beautiful Adonis!
Women, weep!
See the beautiful adolescent
Lying in purple blood.
Give him balms and incense.
Vox Sola
‘I suffer,’ he moaned. Listen!
‘I suffer! What have I done?
I suffer and I bleed.
The world is red with my torment.
Ah! What have I done? Who beat me?
I breathe my last breath, I die – O beauty!
I die, but to be reborn forever.’
The Woman of Byblos
Adonis! Adonis!
Alas! Weep! Weep!
Narrator (The Saint)
Who is the young man sitting at the entrance of the sepulchre?
You are looking for the crucified man,
And why are you searching for the living among the dead?
He is there, stood before us. He says:
Do not weep any more.
Vox Sola
Stop, o mourners!
The world is Light, as he says.
He will live as god, virgin and young man, flourishing!
He is reborn, he is renewed.
O twin brother of the seasons, arise!
Death is immortal, god, by your blood.
The Woman of Byblos
The god, there is the god!
He has arisen.
Chorus of Syrians
Lo! Lo! Adonis!
O sisters, o brothers, rejoice!
The Lord is resurrected!
He leads the dance of the stars.
Lo! Lo! Let down your hair,
Lo! Lo! Unknot your belts, women!
From darkest Hades, where our souls go,
He comes back to us, the Blessed One!
Narrator (the Saint)
Help, lord! In my support,
My spirit, my flame, my King!
César, the evil one.
I have broken your idol, I have broken
Your gold, like you yourself will be broken,
You will be trampled on.
In truth I say to you,
Jesus will glorify me.
Christ and I, we are One.
Eternal Glory!
Christ reigns! You are only mud.
Death is life.
Chorus of Syrians
He is dead, the beautiful Adonis!
Weep! Weep!
He descends towards the black gates.
All that is beautiful, the gloomy Hades takes.
Lower the torches.
Eros! Weep! Weep!
Fourth and Fifth Mansions
The Wounded Laurel
Narrator (the Saint)
César said: ‘Take him
To the wood of Apollo; tie him
To the trunk of the most beautiful of the laurel trees;
Then unleash on his naked body your arrows
Until you empty your quivers
Until his body is like that of a wild hedgehog.
Yes, my archers, this is what I want.
I must fulfil my destiny,
I must be killed by the hands of men,
Your hands… your brotherly hands.
O trembling of my soul!
I feel that my soul and the tree tremble
To the bottom of the most hidden roots.
Do you not see the three startled women?
The three veiled women who are sitting at the foot of the altar.
They are quivering. I see them.
He is here, the shepherd. Look.
He carries a sheep around his neck,
on his shoulders.
My blood starts to flow, in the shadow that believes.
Draw near.
Night is falling. You must look closely, closely, to make a good hit.
Do not tremble, do not cry!
But be intoxicated! Be intoxicated
with blood, like in battle.
Aim carefully. I am the Target.
From the depths, from the depths
I call forth your terrible love.
Be the first! Blessed will be the first star!
Your love!
Your love!
Eternal love!
Chorus of Syrians
Alas! Alas!
Ah! Weep, o women of Syria.
Weep: ‘Alas, my Lord!’
All the flowers have withered.
He goes to the pale prairie!
Weep! Cry!
He descends towards the black gates.
All that is beautiful, the gloomy Hades takes.
Lower the torches.
Eros! Weep! Weep!
Chorus of Martyrs
Glory! Let our wounds shine beneath our armour.
Who is coming?
The lily of the cohort,
Its stem is the strongest
Praise the name it bears: Sebastian!
Chorus of Virgins
You are praised
Faraway, star speaks to star
And says one name: yours.
God crowns you.
All the night, like a drop that dissolves on your forehead, Sebastian.
Chorus of Apostles
You are a Saint. Whoever says your name
Will see the son of man.
Whoever holds you in his heart will shine with your grace.
John gives you his place,
You will drink from his cup, Sebastian.
Chorus of Angels
You are beautiful. Take six angel wings,
And scale the heights
Of music’s fires
Sing a new hymn
To the heaven which is studded with
Your immortal wounds,
The Soul of Sebastian
I come, I rise.
I have wings.
Everything is white.
My blood is the manna
That whitens the desert of Sin.
I am the drop and the spark of life.
I am a soul, Lord,
A soul in your soul.
Chorus of All Saints
Praise the Lord for the immensity of his strength.
Praise the Lord on the dulcimer and organ.
Praise the Lord on the sistrum and the cymbal
Praise the Lord on the flute and the zither.
Translation by Rebecca Franks