By the Waters of Babylon

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Thanks to Netflix we worked our way through the first season of "Mad Men" last week. I heartily recommend the series: it's well photographed and well acted and takes you back to the early 60's. Watching adults drink and (drink and drink and) drive--without seatbelts no less--or children playing "spaceman" with the (these are not a toy!) clear plastic dry cleaning bags reminds you of how much has changed in the last four decades or so.

One episode, entitled "Babylon" ends with a cover of Don Mclean's Babylon (but get the original) with it's moving lyrics from Psalm 137:

By the waters, the waters of Babylon.
We lay down and wept, and wept, for thee Zion.
We remember thee, remember thee, remember thee Zion.

YouTube has the segment here

As I was searching for more information on the song I came across Stephen Vincent Benet's mesmerizing short story "By The Waters of Babylon" that details a young man's journey to a ruined New York City, known to his people as "The Place of the Gods" (and the title of the story when originally published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1937). I had read it as a boy and was moved again re-reading this scene:

He was sitting in his chair, by the window, in a room I had not entered before and, for the first moment, I thought that he was alive. Then I saw the skin on the back of his hand--it was like dry leather. The room was shut, hot and dry--no doubt that had kept him as he was. At first I was afraid to approach him--then the fear left me. He was sitting looking out over the city--he was dressed in the clothes of the gods. His age was neither young nor old--I could not tell his age. But there was wisdom in his face and great sadness. You could see that he would have not run away. He had sat at his window, watching his city die--then he himself had died. But it is better to lose one's life than one's spirit--and you could see from the face that his spirit had not been lost. I knew, that, if I touched him, he would fall into dust--and yet, there was something unconquered in the face.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Murphy published on July 8, 2008 1:41 AM.

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