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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Nocturnal Resolutions


Angel Announcing (detail): Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500, oil on canvas (Gallerie dell'Academia, Venice)

Be opaque
Have no memory
Make no attempt to be understood
Stop suffering fools
Be kind to animals no matter what
Listen to the angel
Try to look upon death as a friend
Accept pain as the condition
Be more patient
Don't turn on the light

aetat 72

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Mark Alexander Boyd: Sonet (A Poetry Comic by Nora Sawyer)


Nora Sawyer: Mark Alexander Boyd: Sonet (A Poetry Comic), from Nora Sawyer, 25 February 2013
"A bit different this week — none of my drawings looked right, so I decided to repurpose some of the earliest images I remember loving: Buck Rogers comic strips." -- N. S.
“I suppose this is the most beautiful sonnet in the language, at any rate it has one nomination.” -- Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading

Mark Alexander Boyd: Sonet

Fra banc to banc fra wod to wod I rin
..Ourhailit with my feble fantasie
..Lyc til a leif that fallis from a trie
..Or til a reid ourblawin with the wind.
Twa gods gyds me the ane of tham is blind,
..Ye and a bairn brocht up in vanitie.
..The nixt a wyf ingenrit of the se,
..And lichter nor a dauphin with hir fin.
Unhappie is the man for evirmaire
..That teils the sand and sawis in the aire,
..Bot twyse unhappier is he I lairn
That feidis in his hairt a mad desyre,
..And follows on a woman throw the fyre
..Led be a blind and teichit be a bairn

Lawrence "Buster" Crabbe as Buck Rogers, with sidekick played by Jackie Moran, confronting the interplanetary mega-gangster Kane (Anthony Warde) in Planet Outlaw, a Universal serial, 1939; re-released as a feature, 1953: image via Nigel Honeybone, Horror News, 23 September 2011

C. S. Lewis, literary historian of the Sixteenth Century, regarded Boyd's single surviving poem in Scots (Sonet) as the closing of a glorious golden epoch and the advent of a new inglorious period in Scots poetry, which he famously characterized in a word as "Drab". 

"We enter upon a period in which historians of Scotch literature can fill their chapters only by dwelling on writers who in happier lands and ages would hardly secure a mention. One sonnet by Boyd (ob. 1601) is remembered... It is impossible not to wonder at this sudden extinction of a poetical literature which, for its technical brilliance, its vigour and variety, its equal mastery over homely fact and high imagination, seemed 'so fair, so fresshe, so liklie to endure'. Historians whose sympathies are Roman attribute the catastrophe to the Reformation. But if the cause lies in that quarter at all it must lie in some peculiarity of the Scotch Reformation; for in England the old religion had no such beauties to show and the new had many. Perhaps the Scotch poetry was essentially court poetry and could not live without a court."

C. S. Lewis: from The Close of the Middle Ages in Scotland, in Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century (1954)


Illustration of "Buck Rogers" operating the control board of an "air-ball", a remotely controlled UAV, first published in
Amazing Stories, March 1929; as reproduced in Amazing Stories Fact and Science Fiction, May 1962: image by Nagle, 14 June 2008

BOYD, MARK ALEXANDER (1563-1601), Latin scholar, born in Galloway on 13 Jan. 1563, was a son of Robert Boyd of Penkill Castle, Ayrshire. His father was the eldest son of Adam Boyd, brother of Robert, restored to the title of Lord Boyd in 1536. Boyd is said to have been baptised Mark, and to have himself added the name Alexander. He had a brother William. His education began under his uncle, James Boyd, of Trochrig, consecrated archbishop of Glasgow at the end of 1573. Proceeding to Glasgow College, of which Andrew Melville was principal, he proved insubordinate, and is said to have beaten the professors, burned his books, and forsworn all study. Going to court he fought a duel. He was advised to follow the profession of arms in the Low Countries, but instead of this he went to France in 1581. After losing his money at play, he resumed his studies at Paris under Jacques d'Amboise, Jean Passerat, famed for the beauty of his Latin and French verse, and Gilbert Génébrard. Génébrard was professor of Hebrew, but Boyd confesses his ignorance of that language. He then began to study civil law at Orleans, and pursued the same study at Bourges, under Jacques Cujas, with whom he ingratiated himself by some verses in the style of Ennius, a favourite with that great jurist. Driven from Bourges by the plague, he went to Lyons, and thence to Italy, where he found an admiring friend in Cornelius Varus, who calls himself a Milanese (Boyd in a manuscript poem calls him a Florentine). Returning to France in 1587, he joined a troop of horse from Auvergne, under a Greek leader, and drew his sword for Henri III. A shot in the ankle sent him back to law studies, this time at Toulouse, where he projected a system of international law. From Toulouse he visited Spain, but soon returned on account of his health. When Toulouse fell into the hands of the leaguers in 1588, Boyd, with a view to joining the king's party, betook himself to Dumaise, on the Garonne. Not liking the look of things here, he was for going on, but his boy warned him of a trap set for his life, into which a guide was to lead him. After hiding for two days among the bushes, he went back to the leaguers, and was imprisoned at Toulouse. As soon as he got his liberty he hastened by night to Bordeaux. His letters allow us to trace his wanderings to Fontenai, Bourges, Cahors, etc. He laments that he was no deep drinker, or he would have pushed on more confidently. He went to Rochelle, being robbed and nearly murdered on the way. Rochelle not suiting him, he found for some time a country retreat on the borders of Poitou. From France he repaired to the Low Countries, printing his volume of poems and letters at Antwerp in 1592. From first to last there is a good deal of eccentricity about Boyd, but his accomplishments as a writer of Latin verse are undoubted, though it must be left for his friend Varus to set him above Buchanan. Another admirer calls him 'Naso redivivus'. His own verdict is that there were few good poets of old, and hardly any in his own time; the Greek poets rank first, in this order: Theocritus, Orpheus, Musæus, Homer; the Hebrew poets (judging from translations) fall decidedly below the Latin, of whom Virgil is chief. Boyd conversed in Greek, and is said to have made a translation of Cæsar in the style of Herodotus. On his way back to Scotland in 1595, after fourteen years' absence, he heard of the death of his brother William, who, as we learn from Boyd's verses, had been in Piedmont, and for whom he expresses a great affection. Having once more gone abroad as tutor to the Earl of Cassilis, he finished his career in his native land, dying of slow fever at Penkill on 10 April 1601. He was buried in the church of Dailly. His publication above referred to is M. Alexandri Bodii Epistolæ Heroides, et Hymni. Ad lacobum sextum Regem. Addita est ejusdem Literularum prima curia', Antv. 1592, small 8vo (there are fifteen 'epistolae,' the first two of which are imitated in French by P. C. D. [Pietro Florio Dantoneto]; the 'hymni', dedicated in Greek elegiacs to James VI, are sixteen Latin odes, nearly all on some special flower, and each connected with the name of a friend or patron; there is also a Greek ode to Orpheus; a few epigrams in the author's honour are added; then come the prose letters. The poetical portion of the book is included in Arthur Johnston's 'Deliciæ Poetarum Scotorum', Amst. 1637, 12mo. Johnston prints the title as 'Epistolæ Heroidum'). Boyd is said to have published also a defence of Cardinal Bembo and the ancient eloquence, addressed to Lipsius. He left prose and verse manuscripts, now in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh; among them are, 'In Institutiones Imperatoris Comments', 1591; 'L'Estat du Royaume d'Escosse à present'; 'Politicus, ad Joannem Metellanum cancellarium Scotise' (Sir John Maitland, or Matlane, died 3 Oct. 1595).

Alexander Gordon, in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 (Volume 6)

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D.: The Big Little Book by Phil Nowlan, art by Lt. Dick Calkins; first edition, 1933: image by William Creswell, 27 November 2009

Monday 25 February 2013

D. H. Lawrence: Relativity


Moon anomaly. Weird thing seen under the moon: photo by Alex Holden, 11 October 2010

I like relativity and quantum theories
because I don't understand them
and they make me feel as if space shifted about like a swan that can't settle,
refusing to sit still and be measured;
and as if the atom were an impulsive thing
always changing its mind.

D. H. Lawrence: Relativity, from Pansies (1929)

Sunday 24 February 2013

Danny Lyon: Second Ward, El Paso (1972)


El Paso's Chicano neighborhood, the Second Ward, a classic "barrio" along the Mexican border, with its adobe houses and nineteenth-century brick Presidio apartments, is slowly losing its ethnic flavor and giving way to urban renewal: photos by Danny Lyon (1942-) for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica project, June/July 1972 (US National Archives)

Friday 22 February 2013

Samuel Johnson: Upon An Author Who Explains Evil To Us As Cosmic Sport


Student in his Study: Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1628, oil on wood, 80 x 61 cm (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Having thus despatched the consideration of particular evils, he comes, at last, to a general reason, for which evil may be said to be our good. He is of opinion, that there is some inconceivable benefit in pain, abstractedly considered; that pain, however inflicted, or wherever felt, communicates some good to the general system of being, and, that every animal is, some way or other, the better for the pain of every other animal. This opinion he carries so far, as to suppose, that there passes some principle of union through all animal life, as attraction is communicated to all corporeal nature; and, that the evils suffered on this globe, may, by some inconceivable means contribute to the felicity of the inhabitants of the remotest planet.

How the origin of evil is brought nearer to human conception, by any inconceivable means, I am not able to discover. We believed, that the present system of creation was right, though we could not explain the adaptation of one part to the other, or for the whole succession of causes and consequences. Where has this inquirer added to the little knowledge that we had before? He has told us of the benefits of evil, which no man feels, and relations between distant parts of the universe, which he cannot himself conceive. There was enough in this question inconceivable before, and we have little advantage from a new inconceivable solution.

I do not mean to reproach this author for not knowing what is equally hidden from learning and from ignorance. The shame is, to impose words, for ideas, upon ourselves or others. To imagine, that we are going forward, when we are only turning round. To think, that there is any difference between him that gives no reason, and him that gives a reason, which, by his own confession, cannot be conceived.

But, that he may not be thought to conceive nothing but things inconceivable, he has, at last, thought on a way, by which human sufferings may produce good effects. He imagines, that as we have not only animals for food, but choose some for our diversion, the same privilege may be allowed to some beings above us, who may deceive, torment, or destroy us, for the ends, only, of their own pleasure or utility. This he again finds impossible to be conceived, but that impossibility lessens not the probability of the conjecture, which, by analogy, is so strongly confirmed.

I cannot resist the temptation of contemplating this analogy, which, I think, he might have carried further, very much to the advantage of his argument. He might have shown, that these "hunters, whose game is man," have many sports analogous to our own. As we drown whelps and kittens, they amuse themselves, now and then, with sinking a ship, and stand round the fields of Blenheim, or the walls of Prague, as we encircle a cockpit. As we shoot a bird flying, they take a man in the midst of his business or pleasure, and knock him down with an apoplexy. Some of them, perhaps, are virtuosi, and delight in the operations of an asthma, as a human philosopher in the effects of the air-pump. To swell a man with a tympany is as good sport as to blow a frog. Many a merry bout have these frolick beings at the vicissitudes of an ague, and good sport it is to see a man tumble with an epilepsy, and revive and tumble again, and all this he knows not why. As they are wiser and more powerful than we, they have more exquisite diversions; for we have no way of procuring any sport so brisk and so lasting, as the paroxysms of the gout and stone, which, undoubtedly, must make high mirth, especially if the play be a little diversified with the blunders and puzzles of the blind and deaf. We know not how far their sphere of observation may extend. Perhaps, now and then, a merry being may place himself in such a situation, as to enjoy, at once, all the varieties of an epidemical disease, or amuse his leisure with the tossings and contortions of every possible pain, exhibited together.

One sport the merry malice of these beings has found means of enjoying, to which we have nothing equal or similar. They now and then catch a mortal, proud of his parts, and flattered either by the submission of those who court his kindness, or the notice of those who suffer him to court theirs. A head, thus prepared for the reception of false opinions, and the projection of vain designs, they easily fill with idle notions, till, in time, they make their plaything an author; their first diversion commonly begins with an ode or an epistle, then rises, perhaps, to a political irony, and is, at last, brought to its height, by a treatise of philosophy. Then begins the poor animal to entangle himself in sophisms, and flounder in absurdity, to talk confidently of the scale of being, and to give solutions which himself confesses impossible to be understood. Sometimes, however, it happens, that their pleasure is without much mischief. The author feels no pain, but while they are wondering at the extravagance of his opinion, and pointing him out to one another, as a new example of human folly, he is enjoying his own applause and that of his companions, and, perhaps, is elevated with the hope of standing at the head of a new sect.

Many of the books which now crowd the world, may be justly suspected to be written for the sake of some invisible order of beings, for surely they are of no use to any of the corporeal inhabitants of the world. Of the productions of the last bounteous year, how many can be said to serve any purpose of use or pleasure! The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it; and how will either of those be put more in our power, by him who tells us, that we are puppets, of which some creature, not much wiser than ourselves, manages the wires! That a set of beings, unseen and unheard, are hovering about us, trying experiments upon our sensibility, putting us in agonies, to see our limbs quiver; torturing us to madness, that they may laugh at our vagaries; sometimes obstructing the bile, that they may see how a man looks, when he is yellow; sometimes breaking a traveller's bones, to try how he will get home; sometimes wasting a man to a skeleton, and sometimes killing him fat, for the greater elegance of his hide.

This is an account of natural evil, which though, like the rest, not quite new, is very entertaining, though I know not how much it may contribute to patience. The only reason why we should contemplate evil is, that we may bear it better; and I am afraid nothing is much more placidly endured, for the sake of making others sport.

Samuel Johnson: from Review of Soame Jenyns, A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil, in The Literary Magazine: 3rd Letter, 17 July 1757

Still-Life of Books: Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1628, oil on wood, 36 x 46 cm (Mauritshuis, The Hague)

Thursday 21 February 2013

Strange Pastoral


Polluted Landscape. 'Due to the vast exploitation of coal mines, meadows in Holingol City, Inner Mongolia, China, are left degraded and no cattle or sheep exist there. In order to maintain the image of the city, the local government sculptured more than 120 sheep, as well as cattle, horses and camels in the Horqin grassland': photo by Lu Guang, 2012 via, via The Guardian, 21 February 2013

The feeling that life is essentially inadequate to the human spirit, and yet that a good life must avoid saying so, is naturally at home with most versions of pastoral; in pastoral you take a limited life and pretend it is the full and normal one, and a suggestion that one must do this with all life, because the normal is itself limited, is easily put into the trick though not necessary to its power. Conversely any expression of the idea that all life is limited may be regarded as only a trick of pastoral, perhaps chiefly intended to hold all our attention and sympathy for some limited life, though again this is not necessary to it either on grounds of truth or beauty; in fact the suggestion of pastoral may be only a protection for the idea which must at last be taken alone.

William Empson: from Some Versions of the Pastoral, 1935

File:Ren on Disco-tour.jpg
Reindeer on Disco-Tour, northern Sweden: photo by Jürgen Howaldt, 2004

Survivors.'This century-old building in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh does not harbour ghosts of the past -– it shelters living and hopeful souls, braving life in the present. It is home to 80 families of sweepers -- one of the most neglected and downtrodden communities, despite rendering an important service making it deserved to be noticed and respected':
photo by GMB Akash, 2011 via The Guardian, 21 February 2013

Model Housing. 'Designer housing lies almost empty unsold after the housing boom ends in Spain; just some of the estimated 1.2m empty properties that Spain has on offer. This estate near the coast is eerily quiet with only a few properties occupied; concept living that has made it to construction but with no one to move in. We seem to have an innate need to order and compartmentalise our lives, often more obvious from the air': photo by Steve Brockett, 2012 via The Guardian, 21 February 2013