Pairing: Rivers and Sadness


An oldie but a goodie.

Rivers and sadness have gone together since the earliest civilizations on Earth. It was probably the river and its harnessable supply of water that made permanent settled communities possible. Civilization has been a source of depression ever since.

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the goddess Isis cries so much over the death of her husband Osiris, that her tears flood the Nile River. This emotional outpouring allows for the fertility that powered the dynasties of Egypt over the span of thousands of years. The river is her grief manifest. And people grow to depend on it to live. Her sadness is their gain. So they have to honor her: they need her to be in pain.

This is an association that has never really weakened over the years.

New York is a city with rivers on two sides of it. Its citizens are well-known for their misery. As far back as the 1800s, author Herman Melville documented in his book Moby-Dick, or The Whale that when he felt at his worst, at the very point he was ready to start knocking off people's top hats, he would escape along any street, west or east, to the riverside and feel some relief.

Isis in mourning pose.

As Richard Silken wrote in the poem "Boot Theory" in his 2005 book Crush:

“A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river                     but then he’s still left with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away                                                                         but then he’s still left with his hands.”

Sadness is attracted to the river. There are a few reasons for this. The river is similar to the outlook of a person suffering depression when they think "This will not end." The river keeps flowing, depending on the river, and enforces that idea. There is also always the possibility that you might throw yourself into it.

That was the thinking of Viriginia Woolf when she came the Ouse River just outside of the village of Rodmell. The river is not too deep. Virginia planned on this, and she stepped into the Ouse with her pockets full of rocks.

The Ouse, with Rodmell in the distance

Recently I took a bike trip along the banks of the Yarkon River. This long winding stream runs from the edge of the hills and meets the sea just a few blocks away from where I live in Tel Aviv. It is also a record of the past.

Each site dotted along the way of the river reminds you that what may look pristine is really produced. The river has not washed away the past, but the past congregates around the river. A town, a mill. This way the water flows. And you may ask yourself: How did I get here?

A sign along the banks of the Yarkon at the site of the Seven Mills and the village of Jarisha (جرِيشة ). [Photo mine. CC BY-SA 2.0]

This is not my beautiful house.

[Images: Cats Under the Ayalon. By Anthony Michael Morena (CC BY-SA 2.0) Mourning Isis Hildesheim By Einsamer Schütze (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Rodmell from the Ouse by Simon Carey (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons]

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