By the Waters of Babylon Quotes
by Stephen Vincent Benét

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The god who lived there must have been a powerful god. The first room was a small ante-room—I waited there for some time, telling the spirits of the place that I came in peace and not as a robber. When it seemed to me that they had had time to hear me, I went on. Ah, what riches! Few, even, of the windows had been broken—it was all as it had been. The great windows that looked over the city had not been broken at all though they were dusty and streaked with many years. There were coverings on the floors, the colors not greatly faded, and the chairs were soft and deep.

When the young narrator comes the Dead Place, he explores a skyscraper and is awed at what he finds. Benét employs dramatic irony: we as readers know what he is seeing, and it seems somewhat ordinary to us, but to the narrator it is a place of wonder.

When gods war with gods, they use weapons we do not know. It was fire falling out of the sky and a mist that poisoned. It was the time of the Great Burning and the Destruction. They ran about like ants in the streets of their city—poor gods, poor gods! Then the towers began to fall. A few escaped—yes, a few. The legends tell it. But, even after the city had become a Dead Place, for many years the poison was still in the ground. I saw it happen, I saw the last of them die. It was darkness over the broken city and I wept.

The narrator has a vision of the nuclear war or holocaust that destroyed the beings he stills thinks of as gods, leaving radiation ("poison") behind.

—I knew then that they had been men, neither gods nor demons. It is a great knowledge, hard to tell and believe. They were men—they went a dark road, but they were men.

The narrator...

(The entire section is 498 words.)