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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What does John discover at his destination in "By the Waters of Babylon"?

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Once John has crossed the river and reached the City of the Gods, he is free to have a look at this place which none of his people have ever visited because of the strong taboos surrounding it. The City of the Gods is not, as the priests have told him, "an island covered with fogs and enchantments." Instead, he sees "old marks" and "old stains" of the Great Burning, and sees ruins everywhere of god-roads and towers.

Note the repetition of the phrase "How shall I tell what I saw?" in this section to reinforce the sense of wonder and awe that John feels as he steps in the City of the Gods for the first time. Although he expects to hear the "wailings of spirits and the shrieks of demons" he only sees beautiful examples of nature carrying on its life. He also sees remnants of the gods - the sign saying "UBTREAS" and the face of "ASHING", who John feels he should pray to.

The scene is completely deserted apart from nature. No men remain, and John is puzzled by the remnants of the Gods that he sees: "Everywhere there are the carved stones, carved with magical numbers or words."

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