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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


TC said...

Lawrence "Buster" Crabbe as Buck Rogers in the Universal serial film Planet of Outlaws (1939)

TC said...

By the by, I have a feeling Mark's "twa gods" are Aphrodite and Eros.

As to Buck, he wasn't much of a ladies' man in the original version. But in the 1979 remake, there was Erin Gray in Lycra.

Buster Crabbe of course was an Olympic hero, swimmer -- the first Tarzan, the first Flash Gordon.

But only the second Buck Rogers.

Buck was already eleven years old when Buster slipped into the persona.

Of course, none of the historical Bucks ever had adventures to match those of Mark Boyd, who adopted the brave moniker "Alexander" for a reason.

(Though all we really know about his adventures in battle was that he was shot in the ankle... and soldiers have been known to have that happen when their superiors are looking the other way.)

As a lad, I was the proud possessor of a small collection of those wondrous Big Little Books -- they were as wide as they were high, and every facing page had a dashing illustration. If I remember correctly, you could buy them for a quarter.

TC said...

Oh dear (or O deer?), how can I have forgotten, was I too young, or was it just that Buck himself never seemed very interested? -- there WAS the spunky female lead in the early serial version, "Wilma Deering", later on played by Erin Gray in Lycra... but Erin could never have touched the hem of the space garment of the 1939 Wilma, played by the cosmic Constance Moore.

Ed Baker said...

Elmo Lincoln was (as far as I know) the first film Tarzan.

Crabbe also played an explorer-hunter in a seal or series tramping around in The Deepest, Darkest Continent ....

I also seem to recal "Buster" Crabbe doing some early cowboy films stuff.... in the Johnny Mac Brown, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson era.

the ONLY John Wayne "stuff" that I can stomach .... his early cowboy films...

Johnny Weismuller was also a GREAT olympic swimmer

Ed Baker said...

the computer did it again:

"serial" is now "seal"

where the hell can I get a new rotary phone...?

the future looks bleak via when computers, Microsoft and our dumbed-down leaders are 95 % running things !

I guess the ALL hope for our future is now in the hands of those who have dropped out

TC said...


That reminds me of another Mark Boyd story.

"He was born on the 13th of January, 1562, and is said to have come with teeth into the world. While yet a child, he lost his father, and came under the care of his uncle, James Boyd, Archbishop of Glasgow. As he grew up in years, he evinced a great aversion to study, and a disposition, restless, fiery, and ungovernable. Quarrelling with his preceptors, he eloped to Edinburgh, in the hope of pushing his way at court, by the force of natural talent alone; but it was not long till he discovered, that fate had made no exception in his favor, from the general necessity of toiling up the steeps of fame. All that he acquired in this stage of his progress, was the blockhead reputation of having fought one duel, and been the hero of numberless broils. Still, however, averse to books, he resolved to follow the profession of arms; and, furnished with a small stock of money, went over to France, with the intention of entering into the service of that country. Shortly after his arrival, he lost all his money at dice; and it would seem, that, with that, his military passion also passed away for the time.

"His misfortunes at the gaming table brought on a fit of reflection, which gave birth to a very wise resolution, of resuming those studies which, in his younger years, he had so foolishly forsaken and despised..."

Ah, strange fits of reflection have we known!

The born-with-teeth detail gives rise to the green-eyed monster in one, but then nobody's perfect.

The "blockhead" reference brings back, across the jungly mists of Time, John Wayne's jacket comment on one of somebody's early works, was it Mark's or was it mine?

Ah, it comes to me now. The book was Who Is Sylvia?

And Hondo's immortal words -- "The worst of them all".

And didn't we all eat dust, as he rode off toward Glendale on four hundred astro-horses with Wilma Deering on side-saddle?

Ed Baker said...

I jus dun-know ?
I was, and yet am, an William Boyd (Hoppy) fan

and an Hoot Gibson The Three Mesquitteers and Wrong Way Corrigan

and that Bob Steele sure could take a phony punch..... Lash LaRue and his
whip ... and those rolled-up dungarees... and the girl on the run-away buck-board all of the boys looking to see what the wind would do :

TC said...

And so, before signing off on another long, hard night in the steroid belt -- er, slip of the keys there, meant to say asteroid, must be daydreaming of Mother Russia again -- duty (not to mention colleaguiality) requires an answer be given to all those who are, perhaps like Ed, even at this moment, curious as to why Ezra Pound thought this "the most beautiful sonnet in the language".

Was it a trick comment, implying Scots is "the language"?

Or was it, as the critic and not-quite-Olympian Robert Pinsky once suggested, because he had "a defective mind"?

Or was it because he was an incorrigible abecedarian?

Or because the voting booth tent slipped, and he thought he was voting for Elmo not Abe?

A: none of the above.

It was because he found Mark's sonnet to be a perfect template for the sonnet structure.

"Sonnet properly divided in octave and sestet", were his exact words.

Simple as ABC, if you can read.

Nothing so defective about that really.

But then Erin Gray looked pretty good in that Lycra, too, so you never know.

TC said...

Ed, okay, now I get it. The art of indirection, yeah?

William Boyd, also of Clan Boyd.

TC said...

I can hear those pulsing hoofbeats now... the Scottish Poets riding in to be born with teeth!!

Ed Baker said...

don't everything just interpenetrate ?
or must we (as you say-write-posit)
"to be a perfect template for the sonnet structure."?

well, now off to reset the down-stairs toilet before the prune-juice kicks in !

TC said...

The Kyoto effect then, is it?

Well, they say figs are good for that too.

Ed Baker said...

on the COZI channel every morning
from about 7 a.m. til noon

serials of:
Hoppy, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers,
and, right now, ZORRO...
The Cisco Kid seems to have disappeared acause, I guess, of them
Politically Correct Police...

and now: " I guess I'll see you gentlemen in the morning... for the very last time." It sure don't look good for the

does it ?

TC said...

This, by the way, is an "experimental" post.

Haven't we all (well, who all?), at one time or another, had that secret longing to be thought of as "experimentalists"?

An explorer of one's acquaintance (cowgirl it was) came back from a doctor visit yesterday with a cartoon snipped from an old New Yorker in the waiting room.

Surreptitious magazine-clipping, is that a form of experimentalism?

The cartoon depicts a bearded psychiatrist, with diploma on wall, looking vaguely bored and taking notes while consulting a patient who is lying on the office couch, looking very anxious.

The patient is anxiously touching his fingertips together, a behavior which suddenly takes on the aspect of a neurotic symptom.

Next to the couch there is a small round table on which we see a kleenex dispenser.

The shrink's diploma is framed and mounted next to a large ornamental fern.

The diploma has a serial -- er, seal -- prominently displayed.

The shrink is saying: "Let's try focussing on your posts that *do* receive comments".

TC said...


Talking, as you were there when I wasn't looking, of whatever it was... I am put in mind of yet another delightful Mark Alexander Boyd anecdote.

"For several years, Boyd lived a party-coloured life, alternating between study and war. He had a sincere passion for arms, and entertained a notion that to live entirely without the knowledge and practice of military affairs was only to be half a man. It is to be regretted, that his exertions as a soldier were entirely on the side adverse to his own and his country’s faith; a fact which proves how little he was actuated by principle."

Don't you just love that last bit? Do you suppose it ought to be taken to mean something important and general about poets?

Also, I do love the "party-coloured" pun, don't you?

You'll have enjoyed that one I'm sure, Ed.

The "parti-colored Picts", with their kilts and factions, and the wee radges riding out of the corral at sundown, ready for the Big Template in the Sky?

Ed Baker said...

yeah I do ! I also "love a parade"

and tear up every time those old guys
in their too-tight uniforms "pass in review"...

they usually follow the line of 1950's automobiles that carry our local officials ! I especially like the Mayor who refused to go to Nam
and now waves at the crowd with one hand while waving a tiny 'merican flag wit t'other.

(we yet 'on topic'and in the correct box? this back-and-forth with you has just lasted longer than my marriage did and
is taking time away from my checking up on the other 10,000 blogs that I daily follow... sometimes 12 times a day ! Had to drop facebook acause it was taking away from my blogging too much time.... and, as you know:
The Blogging Life is the Life for Me !

Dalriada said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Baker said...

WE FORGOT Bruce Bennett's Tarzan, 1935: , also before (I think) Buster Crabbe's version... Lot's of neat films on this site, too:

Ed Baker said...

and a John Wayne flick also 1935:

i think that they are on a stage-coach on the way out to see you when you home-steaded in California ?

Wooden Boy said...

I like the last frame in this strip best: the object of that mad desyre in black and white and those red, yellow and green limbs moving off from the edge.

TC said...


The ancestors will be grateful to you on Mark's behalf for showing up to represent. This is respect. The possibility that someone who lived so long ago, was not famous then and is even less so now, and whose life was surely at least as complicated and difficult as our own, should be afforded a grain or two of respect, remains to be addressed; so thank you for the redress of matters in that department. It's haunting to think that his long final homeward passage should have brought him the news of the death of his brother, who seems to have been the one person he truly cared for. His "numberless broils" and contestations with authority in his homeland, again, would probably be easier to sympathize with now than they evidently were back then. His many alleged failings may be put down to having contracted at birth, along with teeth, the burden of being human. One thing follows another, in that department. Mercy rarely visits history. And we may rest assured that on winter nights in soldier-of-fortune country he probably exchanged that kilt for leggings. Being shot in the ankle in someone else's war can't have been pleasant, either, even if he pulled the trigger himself.

Oh, and in case it matters, I have long thought his Sonet a fine piece of work (perhaps the one quality of E. Pound's that I share is the "defective mind"). I suspect Boyd wrote more poems in Scots, and that, like so many other things (see above: respect, mercy), they are now lost to us.

About the kilt-wearing, by the way, the poor girl in the penultimate frame, clad only in kilt and non-midriff-protecting warrior-woman armoured bustier, would likely be shivering and turning from gray to a gelid blue on those classical moors. The hero's commitment to follow her through the fire may mean he would brave the flames of hell for her, or it may mean he expects she'll be migrating to a warmer climate soon, and he'd like to come along.

TC said...


And thanks to you for showing up to remind us the English retain, hidden somewhere deep in their lovely little wooden hearts -- is it merely because I was raised in that long dark period before the Ages of Stone, Iron, Plastic, Silicon & c, that I cherish a nostalgic fondness for Wood in preference to all those other later-day materials? -- a spot of kindness for the neighbours across the northern border. Perhaps it is the Welsh blood that helps you relate to an equally oppressed race.

And thanks, too, for acknowledging the artist's skills in this heroic piece of work.

"I like the last frame in this strip best: the object of that mad desyre in black and white and those red, yellow and green limbs moving off from the edge."

That is indeed a lovely touch.

TC said...

This reminds me that once again we owe great thanks to Nora for gracing our page with her subtle artistry.

We also owe her thanks for her patience in putting up with all the inane cowboy rubbish. At this late date, the words "John" and "Wayne" in combination summon two particular unfortunate associations. First, the politics -- the balls-out Republican jingoism, the John Birch Society membership, the attacks on Medicare & welfare, etc.; second, the c. eighty pound of undigested animal matter (i.e. tripe) posthumously discovered in the innards; that's a lot of karmic burden slopping-about in amid the True Grit.

Oh, and while on the subject, there was Stalin's notorious love/hate thing re. JW.

Stalin was something of a movie buff, favouring for example the films of Eisenstein despite regarding him as "a Trotskyite", and once saving him from execution on grounds he was "very talented".

And there is this curious bit of trivia.

"Stalin inherited Goebbels's movie library after the war; he loved Chaplin and films such as In Old Chicago (1937) and It Happened One Night (1934). In the [Stalin] archives, [there is] a document requesting Tarzan the Ape Man (1932).

"Westerns with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable were also favourites. Stalin the solitary, pitiless and Messianic egocentric seemed to associate himself with the lone cowboy riding shotgun into town to deal our brutal justice. Hence, he liked director John Ford's work -- and John Wayne.

"Khrushchev recalled how Stalin would ideologically criticise cowboy movies - and then order more. But, in spite of his enjoyment of the films, one source claimed that Stalin once declared at the end of a showing that Wayne, a vociferous anti-Communist, was a threat to the cause and should be assassinated.

"Whether Stalin was speaking drunkenly in the early hours, or whether he meant what he said, such was his power that, either way, the order was quite likely to be executed. Assassins were supposedly sent to LA but failed to kill Wayne before Stalin's death. When Khrushchev met 'Duke' in 1958, he told him 'that was the decision of Stalin in his last mad years. I rescinded the order'". (The Telegraph, 4 June 2004)

Finally, for the record like they say, in case this was not made clear earlier, for my part I thought the 1979 Buck Rogers remake a ridiculous bit of trash. Not that the "original" was not silly, but it was meant for kids -- and too, back then in the Thirties and Forties, space tech at least possessed the deceptive glimmer of pseudo-mystery. Later on, any remaining box office jump in Buck and his entourage was all down to the dubious appeal of the fetish gear. (Tsk. tsk.)

And by the way, concerning our dear Nora, Mark Boyd and space-cowboys, some may have been wondering, "Why Buck Rogers...?"

On this subject, I hope Nora will not mind my revealing she has now reported back-channel as follows:

"...even though I was born in the seventies, the 1979 [Buck Rogers] remake does nothing for me (perhaps because I'm immune to Erin Gray in Lycra). A kindly uncle gave my sister and I a book of the old comics when we were little, and we spent many happy hours exploring the universe via our bunk bed/rocket ship. She was usually Buck and I was usually Wilma, mostly because Buck was the cooler option and since she was older, she got to pick."

That makes sense to me. Age before wisdom, as I have been inaudibly mumbling without discernible effect, for some time now, in my stumbling passage across the dismal outer loops of the asteroid belt.

Nora said...

Don't worry, I'm very much enjoying the "inane cowboy rubbish."

For me, one of the surprise pleasures of this week's poem is the archaic, tactile qualities of both the Boyd's words and the comic book pictures. Having both of them roiling about in my head for a week has been wonderful.

TC said...

Our pleasure, too, of course, Nora.