STLT#279, By the Waters of Babylon

This round evokes in me another, which we’ll get to in November:

Where does it come from? Who wrote it? Why is it in here?
Where does it come from? How did it get here?
Mystery. Mystery. This hymn’s a riddle and a mystery.

Okay, so not all of it is a mystery – it is clearly a round whose text comes from perhaps the most famous of all of the lament Psalms, number 137, which was written by the Israelites during their forced exile in Babylon, beginning around 587 BCE. In even this first verse of the Psalm, we understand the longing of a people taken from their homeland.

We do also have in our hymnody a much-more-familiar-to modern-ears reggae version, which we’ll get to in late December, but this version is a lovely round whose composer is unknown. According to Between the Lines, the round is falsely attributed to William Billings – a likely mistake as he was a master of the fugue form, and this round has probably been around for a long time.

I had never heard it before this morning, and it’s a lovely round with a haunting melody. I’d love to know more about it. Here are the lyrics:

By the waters, the waters of Babylon
we sat down and wept, and wept for thee, Zion.
We remember, we remember, we remember thee, Zion.

Psalm 137:1 reads “By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”

There is, of course, a lot more to say about the whole Psalm, but I want to wait until December, when we get more of the psalm’s text in song. Something to look forward to….

Meanwhile, I am hoping to solve the mystery of this tune. Or at the very least become comfortable with dwelling in the mystery.

Painting by 19th century French artist Jacques Joseph Tissot, entitled “By the Waters of Babylon.”

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