With its placid sea and big sky, the grey and black of the cover of Eunice Buchanan’s book, As Far As I Can See, is both stark and calming. And this is as it should be, for the colour and energy are contained within; contained, yes, but bursting with the life with which Buchanan imbues all of her work.
There is an extensive glossary of “Scots words and terms” at the back of the collection, and you will need it. For Buchanan’s masterful use of language, both English and Scots, is predicated on a large vocabulary. But whether in English or Scots, the same insight, wisdom, skill and dexterity can be found in every piece.
The opening poem in any collection is interesting – the choice is never arbitrary as it sets a standard or tone for what’s to come. The opening poem in As Far As The Eye Can See, “Wife To Noah”, sets a blistering standard; Noah’s dutiful wife puts up, silently, with many distressing happenings linked to the flood and its consequences, happenings which are an affront to the caring aspect of humanity. God has ordained what must take place, and her husband, Noah, obeys God’s will unquestioningly, and so she feels compelled to accept this situation no matter how disturbing the sights around her seem to be. But she promises herself that she will not be silenced when she enters Heaven, for she will, “look the Almichty in the face- and I will hae my say”. This poem flows as smoothly as the flood-water it describes, and that sense of flow runs throughout the book.
“Learning to Swim”, is a poem about love, trust and duty. Buchanan recalls her father teaching her to swim, and she remembers, “strong and tall he stands against the sun – another Atlas”. Her trust in his resolve not to let go of her, and her earnest efforts to learn despite the shock of the cold of the salt water, epitomise the cherished relationship between father and daughter. There is a touching poignancy in the ending – after she can manage on her own, and can “wave to him from the edge of the breakers”, she has the sudden realisation that he himself cannot swim. It is noticeable, and intriguing, that Buchanan uses English rather than Scots as the medium in the several poems which relate to family members.
As Far As The Eye Can See has no apparent theme, other than representing the thoughts, memories and experiences of a perceptive soul. There is humour and hope, wonderment and sadness, but there is always life. Even in the final poem, “Last Words”, Buchanan looks at her own demise, and the possible uses for her remains, with the same humour, hope, wonderment and sadness that characterises the earlier poems. The book rounds off with the short story narrated by the snake from Eden, and the prose is as lyrical as it is clever.
This is a compelling collection of work with a mix of one-third English language to two-thirds Scots language poetry. The latter seems the stronger or, at least, the more exceptional. The variety on offer is wide; the language is perfectly apt (once the glossary has been mastered), and the whole is a sensual delight. As Far As I Can See, this is a powerful collection written with experienced skill.