"Bottom of the River" and Beloved

The song that most reminds me of Beloved is “Bottom of the River” by Delta Rae.

The verses, which are from a different perspective than the chorus, tell the Mother through call and response of terrible things to come and that she should drown her son before an angry God takes him away. Like Sethe, the unnamed mother in the song kills her child to protect them.

One way to interpret the chorus is that the Mother is calling to her child to hold her hand. This tenderness and desire for togetherness reminds me of the way Sethe was with her children. She may have tried to kill them but it was never her intention to be separated from them. I believe that had she not have had any other children she would have killed herself to be with Beloved. 

One can also imagine Beloved singing the chorus. She emerges reborn from the river with the intention of being with Sethe. However, she becomes like a parasite sucking the life from Sethe. If she comes to life after swimming to the river’s surface then swimming to the bottom of the river could represent her going back to death. Only this time she demands Sethe goes with her.

Lyrics

[Chorus]
Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down to the bottom of the river
Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down, a long way down

[Verse 1]
If you get sleep or if you get none
(The cock’s gonna call in the morning, baby)

Check the cupboard for your daddy’s gun
(Red sun rises like an early warning)

The Lord’s gonna come for your first born son
(His hair’s on fire and his heart is burning)

So go to the river where the water runs
(Wash him deep where the tides are turning)

[Pre-Chorus]
And if you fall
And if you fall

[Chorus]
Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down (long way down)
To the bottom of the river
Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down (long way down)
A long way down

[Verse 2]
The wolves will chase you by the pale moonlight
(Drunk and driven by a devil’s hunger)

Drive your son like a railroad spike
(Into the water, let it pull him under)

Don’t you lift him, let him drown alive
(The good Lord speaks like a rolling thunder)

Let that fever make the water rise
(And let the river run dry)
And I said

[Chorus]
Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down (long way down)
To the bottom of the river
Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down (long way down)
A long way down

Hold my hand
Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down (long way down)
To the bottom of the river
Hold my hand
Ooh baby it’s a long way down, a long way down

Saeed and Prayer

One thing I found interesting about Saeed’s contemplation about prayer is that is was devoid about any mention of God. Most of the time when talking about prayer people will talk about their relationship with God. However, Saeed talks about his human relationships.

Of course, Saeed likely believes in God, but it seems that his primary reason for praying is the way it connects him to other people. For someone like Saeed who is not naturally inclined towards cutting ties immigration would likely be especially painful and destabilizing. It is understandable then why he began to pray more after immigrating. Prayer was what kept him tethered to his family and past. For Saeed prayer served as a portal to other times and people he had lost, just as the doors served as portals to other places.

Existentialism: Every man is an Island

Existentialism is profoundly individualistic, and I think that is part of the appeal to some people, but I think that intense focus on the individual is what makes the existentialist world view so sad.

The image of the lone hero standing in a sea of absurdity may have romantic appeal, but it isn’t real. The world isn’t absurd. There is order. Natural laws are followed, even if we don’t fully understand them, and the universe keeps spinning.

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The Andromeda nebula, photographed at the Yerkes Observatory around 1900

Does that mean life is fair? No. I don’t think that those natural laws care much about fairness but it does mean that we are part of something far bigger than ourselves.

Is that the meaning of life? Probably not. To be honest, I don’t have a clue what the meaning of life is, and I think that is ok. But I do know that even if every man is an island, underneath the waves we are all connected. 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

John Donne, 1624

“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” and Hospitality

One thing that struck me as I was reading “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” was the complete lack of hospitality towards the angel. Hospitality was an important value for many ancient civilizations. In a time when people lived further apart, being turned away into the wilderness could be a death sentence. As a result guests were not supposed to be turned away and there was an expectation that the guest would be treated well. The bible actually explicitly states “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” Hebrew 13:2.

This attitude was not unique to the Ancient Israelite’s. The Greeks also had similar expectations and potential rewards. The Ancient Greeks called hospitality Xenia. Xenia was a reciprocal relationship of mutual respect (perhaps even mutual recognition) between the host and guest. In many Greek myths Zeus, god of lightning and protector of travelers, would take the form of a traveler and depending on how he was treated would either punish or reward who did (or worse yet, didn’t) host him. The message was clear, you never knew which guest was Zeus so you better treat them right.

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