Oft-referenced and frequently set to music, Psalm 137 - which begins
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we
remembered Zion" - has become something of a cultural touchstone for
music and Christianity across the Atlantic world. It has been a top
single more than once in the 20th century, from Don McLean's haunting
Anglo-American folk cover to Boney M's West Indian disco mix.
|In Song of Exile,
Stowe uses a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary approach that combines
personal interviews, historical overview, and textual analysis to
demonstrate the psalm's enduring place in popular culture.
The line that begins Psalm 137 - one of the most lyrical of the Hebrew
Bible - has been used since its genesis to evoke the grief and protest
of exiled, displaced, or marginalized communities. Despite the psalm's
popularity, little has been written about its reception during the more
than 2,500 years since the Babylonian exile. Stowe locates its use in
the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement, and
internationally by anti-colonial Jamaican Rastafari and immigrants from
Ireland, Korea, and Cuba. He studies musical references ranging from
the Melodians' Rivers of Babylon to the score in Kazakh film Tulpan.
Stowe concludes by exploring the presence and absence in modern culture
of the often-ignored final words: "Happy shall he be, that taketh and
dasheth thy little ones against the stones." Usually excised from
liturgy and forgotten by scholars, Stowe finds these words echoed in
modern occurrences of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and more generally
in the culture of vengeance that has existed in North America from the
earliest conflicts with Native Americans.