By the Waters of Babylon

Album: Single Release Only (2015)

Songfacts®:

  • Will Butler wrote this song after reading in the Guardian a story about ISIS members destroying millennia old artifacts in Iraq's Mosul museum. "I can't imagine the sorrow and rage of the people whose lands have been overrun by Isis," Butler said, "whose family and friends are murdered, whose culture is being destroyed."

    "This song is not a policy prescription," he continued. "The last lines should evoke horror. But the emotions behind the words are ancient and real."

    "Mosul is a part of our heritage, part of the world's heritage," Butler concluded, "and the loss of its history is heartbreaking."
  • This evokes the Biblical Psalm 137, which was written around 600 BC at a time when the Jewish people were exiled from their home in Jerusalem and held captive in Babylon. Butler described the Psalm as, "a song of sorrow and rage from the mouth of a refugee whose city has been destroyed."

    He added: "The sorrow portion of the psalm is extremely famous and often quoted - 'How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land'" The rage portion of the psalm is less often brought up - 'O daughter of Babylon... happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth they little ones against the stones.'"
  • Psalm 137 was previously borrowed by roots reggae act The Melodians for the rastafarian anthem, "Rivers Of Babylon." The song was famously covered by Boney M in 1978.

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