AH GOOD THE SEA

This bit of chalk graffiti, found along Retreat Lane (a little alley somewhere between the university and the city centre), has long fascinated me. It is totally ungrammatical, but boldly asserts that – well, AH GOOD THE SEA.

I’ve often wondered what it meant. Adding to the curiosity was the fact that it’s been there all three years of my university life – and even before, according to the seniors! Surely there must be some deep meaningful story behind this mysterious phrase that causes people (students?) to restore it, year after year?

A Google search turned out a couple of sites, but all of them were specifically talking about the very same graffiti. ah-good-the-sea.com seemed to offer some hope at explaining this with the claim that it ‘was the working title for the Sponge Bob Square Pants movie’, but that turned out to be false. Apparently it used to (obviously, deliberately and hilariously erroneously) claim that it was ‘the first line of Moby Dick’.

So apparently nobody really knows the origin and meaning of the phrase.

Perhaps it’ll be interesting to add to the scrawl, maybe add to in using other languages. Some suggestions generated by Google Translate include…

啊深大海
あぁ、海の深い
Ah profundo del mar

But somehow, they all seem to lack the hypnotic catchiness of the original English form.

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Posted on February 9, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Shouldn’t the chinese one be: 啊好的大海! 哈哈。

  2. let’s add to the graffiti man.when you get back we’ll write it out somewhere near the current one.啊好大海

  3. I was variously at York University between 1995 and 2001 and passed the grafitti most every day. I heard that in fact it was an advert for a band, but I’m afraid I cannot verify this. I would presume the band name was The Sea.I was quite disappointed when I heard this as I prefer it to be a little more surreal and pointless; but that is just a personal slant on things.Otherwise, there is another great grafitti slogan nearby in Tang Hall:”Eat; Sleep; Work; Die. We’ve all been conned.”

  4. I was at York University from 1986-89 and the graffiti was there back then. We used to speculate as to what it meant, but could never figure it out. I don’t think it had anything to do with a band (although a band I was in did eventually have a song with that title). Also on the opposite wall of Retreat Lane at the time was “No wife, no horse, no moustache”, but I eventually found out where that particular one came from.

  5. im going to cornwall next week because my ma walks past it on her way to work and, mixed with the ‘St Ives Apricot Scrub’ on our bathroom shelf, she couldnt resist.

  6. I think it’s amazing that its origin is still so unknown. I walk/cycle by it almost every day during term time, and I think it’s these things that make York such a special university. In a good way.

  7. I don’t know the origin of it, but I do know a band adopted it as their title recently.

  8. So. Konstantin Raudive was a Latvian writer who got interested in the voices of ghosts. He would record tapes in a soundproof room, and then play them back and write down whatever words and sentences he thought he heard, presumably in Latvian (?).

    William S Burroughs wrote an essay about cut up words and phrases based on his experiences with something called the Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The essay was called “It Belongs To The Cucumbers”. In it he reproduced excerpts from Raudive’s book “Breakthrough”, including the phrase “Ah good the sea”.

    This was then chalked up on a wall on Retreat Lane in York, to the confusion and delight of at least twenty years’ worth of students.

    Unless someone has a better explanation.

  9. For the last 3 years, my band used it as our name. Everytime we played campus events such as battle of the bands of woodstock people would ask us if we put it there as an advert, showing how little they know of its history. I was lead to believe it was the opening line of Moby Dick, but as I now know, this isn’t true. I like the above explanation…

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