Sing of dead Jerusalem
- 1 By Babylon’s rivers
We sat and cried,
Homesick for Jerusalem.1
- 2 On branches of the willow2 trees.
We lay our lyres down.
- 3 But our slave drivers demanded music.
To torture us and amuse themselves
They asked us for a song:
“Sing one of those tunes of Jerusalem.”
- 4 How can we sing a song from the LORD
In a pagan, foreign land?
- 5 If I forget you, Sweet Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget its grip.
- 6 May my dry tongue stick
To the roof of my mouth
If I dare to forget Jerusalem
Even when I’m distracted by joy.
- 7 LORD, remember the people of Edom.
For the day Jerusalem died
Is the day they chanted,
“Flatten her, strip her, take her down
To the bedrock stones in the dirt.”
- 8 Lady Babylon, you nation killer.3
I’d like to thank the one
Who pays you back
Everything I owe.
- 9 I’d like to thank the one
Who takes your children
And smashes their heads on the rocks.
Literally, they were missing “Zion.” “Zion” is a term of endearment, and another name for Jerusalem. It’s a bit like “The Big Apple” for New York City, “The City of Love” for Paris. The Jews were missing their homeland because Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq leveled the Jewish cities—Jerusalem and the Temple as well. Then the invaders exiled most of the surviving Jews, relocating them to the Babylonian territory, where they could keep an eye on them, to make sure the Jews didn’t reconstitute their habitually rebellious nation. Jews repeatedly refused to pay taxes to the bullying empire. So, the empire strikes back.
Or poplar trees.
More literally either devastator or devastated one. It’s not clear if the poet is singing about them as the killer or the one doomed to die.