Piggy by Mrs. Walter Buchanan is a justly neglected poem. Unlike other pieces published around the turn of the present century in The Clarksburg Reflector (Ontario), most notably ”On the tenth of July in ’94 / Clarksburg village will be no more”1—which was still being quoted and discussed in Clarksburg several years later—Piggy aroused no comment or controversy on its first appearance in print.2 Nor was the poem singled out for attention by reviewers when it appeared in Mrs. Buchanan’s Country Breezes from Breezy Brae (c. 1915), her almost unknown volume of verse. Piggy is not mentioned, even in passing, in the Literary History of Canada or in any of the standard surveys of Canadian literature from Desmond Pacey’s Creative Writing in Canada to W.J. Keith’s Canadian Literature in English. While comparable works such as Earle Birney’s “Bushed” and Margaret Atwood’s “They eat out” have been frequently discussed and anthologized, Piggy has never attracted critical comment or appeared in an anthology.
     Yet Piggy is not entirely without merit. Matching a colloquial manner to its commonplace subject, it evokes but refuses a number of aggrandizing epic devices, including the delayed opening verb (“Of arms and the man I sing . . .”) and extended, Homeric similes:

Oh, I’ll sing of the pig, be he little or big,
     For we can’t very well do without him,
Tho’ he cares not a fig to be neat or be trig
     And hasn’t much beauty about him.3

In the ensuing stanzas, the lines are lengthened in a mimetic reflection of the plenitude of the pig:

But there’s meat—juicy meat—and spare ribs so sweet
     That many times graces our table,
There’s the head, and the feet, and the carcase complete,
     And we oft eat as much as we’re able.
And there’s lard—snowy lard—sometimes soft, sometimes hard
     And we use it when doing our baking.
Oh, the pig is a pard that we cannot discard,
     Tho’ sometimes new friends we be making.

Only seldom, as in “pard” and “discard” are Mrs. Buchanan’s rhymes forced. More often, as in the poem’s fine concluding stanza, the versification is apt and the internal rhymes in particular add grace notes to the celebration of a beauty that is more culinary and financial than aesthetic:

Oh, the pig is a gent, on mischief oft bent,
     To take him all through he’s a corker,
But we’ll repent and lose many a cent
     If we ever go back on the porker.

As the phrase “all through” indicates, Mrs. Buchanan sees beyond the pig’s superficial lack of “beauty” to his inner attractions. In Piggy (as in “Duckies”: see Appendix) a keen eye pierces the surface of Canadian nature to uncover the life-sustaining reality that lies beneath, a reality as rich, not to say fatty, as it is rewarding.
     Who, then, was this incisive chronicler of Canadian reality? Unfortunately, the historical record is almost silent about the self-styled “authoress” of Piggy. Of Scottish origin like Alexander Mackenzie, Sir John A. MacDonald, and I.S. MacLarden, Mary Buchanan lived with her husband Walter on their farm “Breezy Brae” near Clarksburg in Gray County, Ontario. Little more is known of her life, except what can be gleaned from her poems. At the age of fifteen, she attended the Cattle Show in Killearn, Scotland, and was impressed by the sheep, cattle, and “flour scones.” She regarded the Hallowe’en of 1879 as “the best that’s been” and the Hogmanay of 1889 with comparable enthusiasm. Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the Christmas of 1902 also excited her interest, as did the return of Hilliard Rorke from the Boar War and a visit from her father in 1900. In 1901-1902 she re-visited Scotland, sailing down the St. Lawrence in October, 1901 on a “big ship . . . / So taut and trim from fore to aft, / You could not wish a better craft . . .” and returning in January, 1902 on the “Parisian / Favourite of the Allan Line . . . Having quite a jolly time.” In 1908, she attended the Clarksburg Fair and in 1913 a “Garden Party at MaGills.” Like George Bowering and W.P. Kinsella, she was an avid baseball fan (“Ravenna Base Ball Nine [Season of 1906]”) and, like A.M. Klein and Hugh Hood, an inspired chronicler of the production of maple syrup (“In the Bush in Early Spring”). Above all, however (and in this respect resembling Sarah Binks and John Glassco), she was a farmer’s wife with a reverence for all things rural and edible—pigs, “duckies,” sheep, potatoes, and, inevitably (given her Scottish heritage) oats.
     But Mary Buchanan was no bucolic conservative. On the contrary, she welcomed the products of progress. Her “‘Gasoline’ (The Farmer’s Power)” is an impressive catalogue of the uses of liquid fuel (“Or hitch it to the pulper / And away it goes gee whizz . . .”) and her “Canada Cement” is a celebration, unique in Canadian literature, of the durability of concrete:

And it will last, and stand the blast
     Where nothing stood before.
If once a job is done O.K.
     ’Twill ne’er need doing no more.

In days gone by, materials used
     Were wood, and stane, and steel.
That they were guid, I hae nae doot
     And served their purpose weel.

But noo, the world is moving fast
     As ne’er before it went,
And in this age what’s all the rage
     Is Canada Cement.

In their macaronic combination of Scots dialect and Canadian subject-matter these lines recall the work of Alexander McLachlan, the so-called “Burns of Canada.” Mary Buchanan’s principal influence among Scottish poets is not Burns, however, but James Hogg (“the Ettrick Shepherd”), and if anyone deserves the title of “the Hogg of Canada” it is surely she. Indeed, in its linking of the joys of mankind with the eternally repeating scenes of the agricultural calendar, Piggy can hardly fail to remind the reader of Hogg’s justly well-known song “When the Kye Comes Hame.”4
     Despite the fact that on the cover of Country Breezes from Breezy Brae, Canada’s Hogg styles herself “Mrs. Walter Buchanan,” Mary Buchanan was not insensitive to women’s issues and the feminism of her day and place. In “‘Gasoline’” she writes gravidly of the benefits to women of liquid fuel:

Or if you’d like to use it
     For to help the women folk,
To whom the heavy house work
     Never seems to be a joke.
You will always find them smiling
     And you’ll never find them mad,
But they’ll say the power producer
     Is the best they ever had.

During the First World War, Mary Buchanan wrote patriotic poems, not merely on the deeds and movements of male soldiers (“Marching Thro’ Germany”), but also on the almost equally important activities of “the weaker vessel” (“The Knitting Brigade”). “Keep on knitting, knitting / Different shades of gray,” she implored her sisters,

So, as our brave soldiers
     Cross the sea in flocks,
Each is well protected
     Wearing home-made socks.

Yet it is in such poems as “Our Women’s Institute” and the “Women’s Institute Convention (Toronto, Ont., Nov. 12, 1915)” that Mary Buchanan shows herself to be most in tune with the urge to sorority that lies behind the women’s collective movement of today, a movement exemplified by such groups as Tessera, the WNBA, and the Greenham Common Women for Peace. Nor were Mary Buchanan’s feminist concerns incompatible with her agricultural interests. Superficially diverse, these two facets of her character become mutually reinforcing, not to say supportive and nurturing, in two poems especially, “Ravenna Women’s Institute Fowl Supper (October 20th, 1909)” and “Ravenna Women’s Institute Fowl Supper. Held October 28th, 1910 (A ‘Fowl’ Affair).” In the latter she puns mercilessly on “Fowl” and “foul,” to celebrate a combination of female companionship and good food that mutes patriarchal discourse (“our dear men have not got much to say”) and could, if allowed, confound the male economy of power (“They’d fall ‘foul’ of the job after such a good feast”).
     It would be an exaggeration to say that Mary Buchanan belongs in the front rank of Canadian writers. Neither as acerbic as Atwood in her analysis of power politics nor as erotic as Aritha Van Herk in her attitude to pigs, she yet shares the wit and sensuality of both, and combines these strengths with the hominess of a Margaret Laurence, the paranomesia of a Robert Kroetsch, the pulchritudinousness of Mitsou, the technocratic propheticism of E.J. Pratt, the keen social criticism of Stompin’ Tom Connors, and the bathos of the Ingersoll Cheese Poet (James McIntyre). Of all Canadian poets, however, Mary Buchanan most resembles H[annah] Isabel Graham, who, like her, was of Scottish descent and lived in a small, rural Canadian community—Seaforth, Ontario. Thanks partly to the precedent-breaking work of her literary grandmother, H. Isabel Graham was able to expand the subject matter of Canadian poetry in directions thereto unattempted by such writers as Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott, A.M. Klein, and A.J.M. Smith. In the tradition of Mary Buchanan , she celebrated the local hero, “Ralph Weiland of the Boston Bruins” in terms at once colloquial and aggrandizing: “We’re proud of you Cooney, we wish you good cheer, . . . You’ve been a clean player and honoured the name / Of Weiland, brought Seaforth and Egmondville fame.”5 Like Mary Buchanan, she wrote ecstatically of the local flora and fauna in such poems as “The Elms of Fredericton” and “Rothesay.” Like Mary Buchanan, but perhaps more in harmony with the growing multiculturalism of Canadian society, she expanded her repertoire of dialects from the Scots of “To a Mosquito” (“We scratch until oor airms are sair. / But michty little dae ye care, / Ye just gang grinnin’ through the air / In exultation”) to include the neo-African rhythms of “Jonah”:

Now Jonah, he not like de plan
     De Lord hed fer dat righteous man.
To go an’ tell de Ninevites,
     Dat dey were flying foolish kites,
All out carousin’ round at nights,
     An’ dat de Lord was quick to see,
An’ would destroy great Nineveh.

It is only to be regretted that Mrs. Buchanan’s progressive attitudes were not as easily consolidated and expanded by H. Isabel Graham as were her literary themes and techniques. In Isabel Graham’s work, Mary Buchanan’s irreverence in the face of the patriarchal order has disappeared (“We honour you Cooney, because you’re a man”) and a nostalgic paranoia about technological advance has replaced the earlier woman’s highly progressive conservativism. “Whither, whither can we flee?” asks Isabel Graham; “Radios in the air and sea / Tuning up for a whoopee / In a hundred years I vow / ’Twill be worse than it is now / One, eternal, big pow-wow”.
     Yet, even if all her innovations were not embraced and further developed by those who followed after her, this should not diminish the achievement of Mary Buchanan. What W.H. Auden wrote of W.B. Yeats could just as easily be said of her: “You were silly like us: your gift survived it all; . . . For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of saying where executives / Would never want to tamper; it flows south / From ranches of isolation . . . Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives . . . .”6 The present edition of Piggy is a testament to the ability of Mary Buchanan’s poetry to survive, to flow south, to persist—in Auden’s words again—as “A way of happening, a mouth.” As an example of Mrs. Buchanan’s literary skills, her agricultural themes, and her culinary obsessions, Piggy is unsurpassed and, in the words of her own Preface to Country Breezes from Breezy Brae, “may find favour and appreciation in the eyes of some.”

The First Edition

Piggy was first published in Country Breezes from Breezy Brae, which was printed by the Beaver Valley Publishing Co. Limited7 in Thornbury, Ontario. The volume is undated but internal and external evidence indicates that it was printed in c. 1915. Stamped in gold on its conservative blue and utilitarian cardboard binding is a square containing the title (“COUNTRY BREEZES / from / BREEZY BRAE”) and the author’s name (“MRS. WALTER BUCHANAN”). Ascending the spine in a bibliographic echo of Mary Buchanan’s progressivism is the title and surname of the author (“COUNTRY BREEZES FROM BREEZY BRAE—BUCHANAN”). The “Dedication” to the volume reads “To the memory of all those who have suffered the supreme sacrifice in the terrible conflict, waged in the cause of justice, liberty and peace, this book is respectfully dedicated. BY THE AUTHORESS.” The epigraph to Country Breezes from Breezy Brae could well serve as the epigraph to the Canardian Poetry Press Editions of Early Canardian Long Poems: “‘Of making many books there is no end.’—Ecclesiastes 12:12.” It is followed by a note that reads: “Of making many books there is no end, so saith the prophet, and I add my quota, making no excuse or apology, but hopeing [sic] it may find favour and appreciation in the eyes of some. Yours respectfully, MARY BUCHANAN.” Facing the epigraph is the second of several black and white photographs in Country Breezes from Breezy Brae. It depicts a short-haired, austerely-dressed, and well-fed woman, and is signed “Yours truly Mary Buchanan.” The first illustration in the volume depicts Breezy Brae itself behind a chicken wire fence (no chickens are visible), and other illustrations depict sheep, a sugarbush, a church, “Our Mother’s grave,” and, facing Piggy, several large pigs of indeterminate breed. Both the frontispiece to Country Breezes from Breezy Brae and the illustration that accompanies Piggy are reproduced in the present edition.

The Present Text

The present text of Piggy is based on the version of the poem in Country Breezes from Breezy Brae. The few errors of spelling and punctuation that appear in the original version of Piggy have been corrected in the present text, and are recorded in the list of Editorial Emendations that follows the poem.

Notes to the Introduction

  1. An undated clipping from The Clarksburg Reflector, in the editors’ copy of Country Breezes from Breezy Brae begins, “Back in 1894 a poem was written [and published in the Recorder] depicting a black outlook for the village when the Beaver river would go on an unprecedented rampage . . . .” [back]
  2. An extensive search in newspapers and magazines published in Grey County and other centres (Toronto, London, Frogmore, Bruce County) has uncovered no mention whatsoever of Piggy. [back]
  3. All quotations from Mary Buchanan’s poems are taken from Country Breezes from Breezy Brae (Thornbury, Ontario: Beaver Valley Publishing Co. Ltd., n.d.). The book is unpiginated. [back]
  4. The first stanza of Hogg’s much-anthologized song (Selected Poems, ed. Douglas S. Mack [Oxford: Clarendon, 1970], pp. 121-122) reads as follows:

    Come all ye jolly shepherds
         That all whistle through the glen,
    I’ll tell ye of a secret
         That courtiers dinna ken:
    What is the greatest bliss
         That the tongue o’ man can name?
    ’Tis to woo a bonny lassie
         When the kye comes hame.
         When the kye comes hame,
         When the kye come hame
    ’Tween the gloaming and the mirk
         When the kye come hame.

    The song consists of seven napiform stanzas on the joys of the shepherd’s life, each ending in the same refrain, varied only by the substitution in the final line of an exclamation mark for the period. The influence of Hogg is clearly seen in a comparison of Mrs. Buchanan’s “Duckies,” reproduced in decollated form as an appendix to the present Canardian Poetry Press edition. [back]

  5. Quotations from the works of H. Isabel Graham are from her volume Be of Good Cheer (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1939). The present example appears on page 7. [back]
  6. The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1945), p. 50. [back]
  7. Little is known of this publishing house, but, so far as can be determined, it was not a feminist collective. As the following example, gleaned by Hugh Templin from an 1869 issue of the Elora Lightning Express indicates, the work of Buchanan and Gunn carries forward a long and enviable tradition of mid-Ontario verse:

    Adres to my Farm

    My dear old farm for 20 years
         Ive worked among your stumps
    And now in my declining years
         The cash comes in, in lumps.
    Ive bilt a house and barn and shed
         And feel pretty comfortable
    What though my wife is long since dead
         I am still boath yung and able
    My sons are married to their wives
         And have verry good farms of their own
    There leading very easy lives
         Just as shure as you are born.
    If some yung woman would come along now
         And let me ask her for to marry
    It wouldnt be long I bet you a cow
         Before to the clergyman I would hurry.

    The editors are grateful to Elsie Gordon for calling this stunning poem to their attention. [back]