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

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How do we know the narrator is dreaming in "By the Waters of Babylon" when he sleeps by the fireplace?

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Well, we are not told specifically it was a dream. It could have been a very strong vision. Either way, it is clear that somehow John, the narrator who tells us this story, is seeing the city as it once was rather than seeing its reality in his time. He describes to us a strange sense of being drawn out of himself into the past to witness what he then goes on to narrate. Consider the following description:

I know that I felt myself drawn as a fish is drawn on a line. I had stepped out of my body--I could see my body asleep in front of the cold fire, but it was nto I. I was drawn to look out upon the city of the gods.

It is clear that the city he sees is transformed greatly compared to the ruins that he has just made his way to. He sees lots of light and hears roaring sounds, which we can obviously relate to the lights at night and the sounds of a city in our time. Thus it is that John does experience some kind of powerful vision, when he witnesses how the Gods were destroyed, but it is suggested that this is not a dream.

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