man standing off to the side looking down at a marble bust of another man laying atop a pile of broken columns

By the Waters of Babylon

by Stephen Vincent Benét

Start Free Trial

What are three important quotes from "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benét?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I like the second sentence of the story for a good quote.

It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest.  

There is so much mystery to the quote because it is placed so early in the story. What are the Dead Places? Why is it forbidden? What's up with the metal phobia, and why can priests touch it? What's great about the quote is that the story slowly answers all the questions it poses and relates them to John. He is the son of a priest and trains to become a priest. The metal must have been loaded with radiation from the "Great Burning," and the Dead Places are former cities that have been destroyed in a disaster or war.  

I also like this next quote.

It is better to lose one's life than one's spirit, if one is a priest and the son of a priest.

John is saying he would rather die trying to follow his dreams and passions than live knowing he didn't try. That thought gives him the courage to cross the Hudson into the former New York City.

The story closes with this next quote. 

At least, we make a beginning. And, when I am chief priest we shall go beyond the great river. . . We must build again.

"By the Waters of Babylon" is a depressing story. This final quote ends the story in a positive and uplifting way, though. Readers get the feeling that John is the right leader to begin the rebirth of learning in his people.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team