The Ouse, the river I cross each day as I walk to work, has become sinister. It is impossible not to notice the flat, burbling brown ribbon threading through the center of York. It chokes our traffic over tight bridges and belches over the banks in bad weather. Since I first posted about it, the Ouse has claimed the lives of two young adults, who fell into the river during drunken nights out. I suppose it isn’t all that uncommon, cities with rivers have drowning fatalities, so I’m not sure why these deaths have animated this particular river with menace for me. As apparent from the marble plaque above (located in the Minster), people have been dying in the Ouse for a long time.
I had a startled moment today when I realized that Virginia Woolf committed suicide in the Ouse on this day, the 28th of March…but a different Ouse entirely, down in Sussex. Her suicide note is sweet, deeply sad, and I wished that my stepfather had left something similar. He too committed suicide, last November, up Poudre Canyon in Colorado. The nearest mile marker on the highway was noted on his death certificate–when I came back to England after the funeral I spent a little while looking for the spot on Google Street View, until I realized that I should stop. Godspeed.
The quote in the title is from William Etty, a famous English painter who died watching the sun setting over the River Ouse, his last words: “Wonderful! Wonderful! This death!” I found Etty while I was looking for background for a fantastic project we are starting at York. But it’s all tumbled together in my head now–poetry, death, madness, digital ghosts, cemeteries–all roiling and frothy in the brown waters of a river that never really was all that innocent. The Ouse. The Oooze.
It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you….