The Poet s Holy Craft
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149 pages

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The Poet's Holy Craft represents the first full-length analysis and interpretation of William Gilmore Simms's poetry. Matthew C. Brennan demonstrates the comprehensiveness of Simms's romanticism by examining Simms's poetics, his experimental sonnets, and his deep affinity to William Wordsworth, which especially shows in Simms's pioneering attitudes toward nature and ecology.

The poetic career of antebellum Charleston writer William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) constitutes a cautionary tale of how ambition worthy of John Keats and talent comparable to any American poet before Walt Whitman could not alone guarantee a toehold in the literary canon. Although praised in his lifetime by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and William Cullen Bryant, Simms as a poet faced virtual erasure until a recent revival of scholarship. Building on the work of James Everett Kibler, Brennan argues that Simms exhibits the influence of British romanticism earlier than do his canonic contemporaries Henry W. Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Brennan's reappraisal maps Simms's early imitation of neoclassicism and George Lord Byron, and his slightly later absorption of Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Gothicism. Through study of Simms's letters, reviews, extant lectures, manuscripts, and drafts, Brennan delineates his subject's romantic poetics and offers new insights into his revision process. Brennan finds in Simms an interest in experimentation with the forms and themes of the romantic sonnet that supersedes that of even the British romantics. Noting Simms's deep affinity to Wordsworth, and to a lesser degree Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Brennan portrays Simms as remarkably in advance of Thoreau, although from a Southern context, in the environmental concerns that present themselves in his contemplative poetry and in his life and work at his home, Woodlands plantation.

In short The Poet's Holy Craft offers a corrective that rescues Simms from the long shadow cast on his literary legacy by his Confederate affiliations and illumines his original contributions to the romantic verse tradition.



Publié par
Date de parution 10 septembre 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611172256
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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William Gilmore Simms, portrait by William Edward West (1844). From a copy, courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

© 2010 University of South Carolina
Cloth edition published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2010
Ebook edition published in Columbia, South Carolina, by the University of South Carolina Press, 2012
21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The Library of Congress has cataloged the cloth edition as follows:
Brennan, Matthew, 1955–
The poet's holy craft : William Gilmore Simms and romantic verse tradition / Matthew C. Brennan ; foreword by John Caldwell Guilds.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-57003-888-4 (alk. paper)
1. Simms, William Gilmore, 1806–1870 Criticism and interpretation.
2. Simms, William Gilmore, 1806–1870 Poetic works. 3. Ecology in literature. 4. Romanticism. I. Title.
PS2853.B68 2010
ISBN 978-1-61117-225-6 (ebook)
To Beverley with love
List of Illustrations
John Caldwell Guilds
ONE From Classic to Romantic
TWO Romantic Theory and Practice
THREE The Romantic Sonnet
FOUR “Worshipper of Nature”: The Wordsworth of Woodlands
FIVE Romantic American Ecology
Appendix 1
Sample of Sonnets by
William Gilmore Simms
Appendix 2
Sonnets in “Progress in America”
by William Gilmore Simms
Portrait of Simms by William Edward West frontispiece
Washington Irving and His Friends
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Manuscript of “The Indian Village”
Woodlands residence
Woodlands study
Elegant literary criticism at its theoretical best, The Poet’s Holy Craft: William Gilmore Simms and Romantic Verse Tradition lends substantial support to two important movements: the restoration of Simms’s high reputation at the outbreak of the American Civil War and the reentry of Simms to the canon of mainstream American letters. Matthew Brennan hits exactly the right chord and tackles exactly the right issues. In doing so, he avoids ruffling many minds, including my own, by not specifically challenging the prevailing concept that the novel is Simms’s highest achievement. Nevertheless, without bravado and with much convincing evidence, Brennan makes his case: Simms himself believed poetry to be his “holy craft” and wished it to be recognized as his major work. As a practicing poet, he was sometimes innovative but usually traditional in pursuing the goals of British romantic poetry.
It is particularly significant that of all the Simms scholarship since my Simms: A Literary Life came out in 1992 (the year before the founding of the Simms Society), The Poet’s Holy Craft is the only book-length treatise to focus critically on a single genre of the multitalented, multicultural author. This is surprising because there is great need for books of extended literary criticism on Simms’s opus of novels and short stories, generally considered his most accomplished, as well as his most popular, genre. Yet it is only Brennan’s The Poet’s Holy Craft that has come to the forefront. Before reading Brennan’s discerning exegesis of Simms’s poetry as a whole, I had assumed that James Kib -ler had done the maximum for Simms as a poet in his monumental Selected Poems of William Gilmore Simms , with its highly informative, perspicacious commentary on individual poems.
The scholar, let it be recognized, who deserves the most credit for the rediscovery of Simms the poet is not Matthew Brennan, but James E. Kibler. Kibler not only edited the only scholarly edition of Simms’s poetry, documenting many previously unknown poems with hard-to-find factual information, but also he has in addition served as a vocal and written advocate of the underrated merit of Simms as poet. As Brennan himself graciously recognizes and fully acknowledges, he could not have written The Poet’s Holy Craft without Kibler’s groundbreaking work. Nevertheless much credit goes to Brennan, for he has impeccably done what Kibler wisely left undone after ploughing the field and sowing the seed so that the eventual crop could be culled and cultivated. If it truly can be said that without Kibler, Brennan’s book would not exist, then it can also be said that without Brennan, Kibler’s lifelong research project could not have achieved its cherished goal. While Simms scholars and readers rejoice in the publication of The Poet’s Holy Craft , they can look to another day of jubilee this year when a revised, ex panded edition of Kibler’s Selected Poems of William Gilmore Simms is published by the University of South Carolina Press.
The book now in hand before us, however, is so exquisitely written and superbly articulated that it is a glory to its author. Making full use of Kibler’s invaluable work, Brennan is first to assess Simms’s poetry critically as a whole and place it front and center in the mainstream of nineteenth-century American romantic poetry. A poet himself, Brennan sees in Simms remarkable strains of Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and Keats that Longfellow, Bryant, Emerson, Lowell, and the others did not capture. Before any other American poet, Simms duplicated those characteristics in his own verse, thereby melding British romanticism with its American counterpart and thereby influencing the drift of American poetry. Brennan is very specific in his explications, providing convincing examples that Simms now excluded from every academic anthology of American letters indeed belongs not only as a writer of fiction but also as a poet. Whatever the nonliterary reasons for dropping Simms from the American canon, his exclusion is a disgrace to American literary scholarship, which has prided itself for thoroughness, ob -jectivity, and accuracy.
Brennan’s book should be helpful in several ways in negating the false assumptions that bind Simms to obscurity. First of all, that Brennan demonstrates Simms’s credibility as a major poet provides convincing ammunition to Simms adherents themselves some of whom had expressed doubts about Simms’s poetic achievement while at the same time accepting his high ac -complishment as novelist and writer of short fiction. The doubting Thomases recognized that documentation of Simms’s worth as a poet adds validity to their outrage about the preclusion of Simms from classroom anthologies throughout the United States. This seemingly unpardonable injustice means that Simms is not read by most American undergraduates, even many En -glish majors. It is one of the most puzzling enigmas in our cultural history how a writer of Simms’s stature could fail to qualify for place in our literary canon a canon that embraces numerous writers of demonstrably less ability and performance than he.
When Simms is finally accorded the national reputation that he deserves and once held, and justice at last prevails, Matthew Brennan and The Poet’s Holy Craft will have played a significant role in erasing one of the most glaring and embarrassing oversights in American literary scholarship.
John Caldwell Guilds
All scholarship builds on the shoulders of those who come before, but this study of Simms’s poetry literally could not have even been started without the heroic work of James E. Kibler Jr., whose lifelong devotion to Simms the poet has rescued this side of his career from virtual oblivion. As my notes show I am indebted to Jim from beginning to end. I am also grateful to some of the other great scholars who have been central to the renaissance in Simms studies: Jack Guilds, the late Jim Meriwether, and Miriam Shillings -burg, who all supplied moral support. Similarly other younger members of the Simms Society have provided encouragement and camaraderie: Colin Pearce, Kevin Collins, David Newton, Nick Meriwether, John Miller, and Jason Johnson; as have Simms family members of the Simms Society, especially, Connie and Hal Cooper, Carroll Hartman, and Katie Counts. I am thankful too to David Aiken, who warmly inspired me early on. Equally deserv ing of thanks are my editors at the University of South Carolina Press, Project Editor Karen Rood and Acquisitions Editor Alexander Moore, who among other things tipped me toward some unpublished Simms sonnets at the Charleston Library Society. Allen Stokes and his generous staff at the South Caroliniana Library hosted me as a Simms research professor in 2007, and Dr. Stokes has kindly granted permission to reproduce photographs and to quote from the library’s holdings. I also am grateful to Indiana State Uni -versity for a summer research grant, and to the editors of the following journals for permission to reprint parts of chapters 3 , 4 , and 5 : Mississippi Quarterly, South Carolina Review , and the Southern Quarterly (“Simms, Words -worth, and ‘The Mysterious Teachings of the Natural World,’” 41, no. 2 [Win ter 2003]: 37–47). I am especially appreciative of the inspiriting words of Mrs. Mary Simms Oliphant Furman, who graciously has allowed reproduction of the West portrait of her great-grandfather.
Most of all I owe the inspiration for this book to first the late Doris Simms, my mother-in-law, whose keen interest in Simms alerted me to his past importance and to the burgeoning enterprise working to recover his place in the canon. And second the greatest debt goes to my wife, Beverley, Simms’s great-granddaughter, who first opened my eyes to Simms and his work.
Abbreviations A Areytos (1860) BL Biographia Literaria CCSC Charles Carroll Simms Collection DF Donna Florida EL Early Lays FA Father Abbott GT Grouped Thoughts and Scattered Fancies Intro The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography L The Letters of William Gilmore Simms LOP Lyrical and Other Poems P Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary and Contemplative PP Poetry and the Practical PrW The Prose Works of William Wordsworth PS Shelley’s Poetry and Prose SCL South Caroliniana Library SP Selected Poems of William Gilmore Simms SPP Southern Passages and Pictures V The Vision of Cortes, Cain, and Other Poems Views Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction
The career of poet William Gilmore Simms constitutes a cautionary tale: how ambition worthy of Wordsworth or Keats and talent comparable to any American poet before Whitman cannot alone guarantee a toehold in the canon. Its slippery slopes, subject to historical accidents, political prejudice, and shifts of cultural paradigms, leave nearly all writers vulnerable to revisions. Simms the poet, however, has faced virtual erasure. This is the common fate of poets who are not great: As Hayden Carruth has observed in evaluating the poetry of Mark Van Doren, poets “who have written superb, unimprovable poems, but whose work does not place them in the first rank,” risk “being forgotten.” But “time constructs the true canon,” Jim Harrison asserts, “not critics contemporaneous to the work,” and time now appears to be on Simms the poet’s side. 1 Belatedly, since the mid-1980s a revival of scholarship on Simms’s life and work has managed to bring him back to more general awareness.
Nevertheless, besides the heroic editorial, critical, and bibliographical attention of James E. Kibler Jr., very little of this recent scholarship has focused on the poetry. Although John Caldwell Guilds credits Kibler’s work on the poetry, Guilds’s magisterial, corrective biography, which appeared in 1992, a century after William Peterfield Trent’s highly biased one, argues for the primacy of Simms’s fiction that charts the national history: “While it is remarkable,” Guilds says, “that he accomplished so much in other literary fields” including poetry, “it is as a writer of fiction , and particularly as a novel -ist , that Simms leaves his most enduring mark.” Other books on Simms’s work focus their lenses in directions that downplay the verse: Mary Ann Wimsatt privileges the novel in The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms , Jon L. Wakelyn unconvincingly views Simms as primarily a politician in The Politics of a Literary Man , and Sean R. Busick insists in A Sober Desire for History that “we can truly understand Simms only when we understand him as a historian.” 2
The reconstruction of Simms’s reputation as a poet launched by Kibler is important to a full understanding of nineteenth-century American literature. It is important not only because Simms produced nearly two thousand poems and published no fewer than eighteen volumes of poetry; and it is important not only because one of the period’s greatest critics, Edgar Allan Poe, judges Simms in a review of the poetry collection Areytos (1846) as “beyond doubt, one of our most original writers.” Above all, reconsidering Simms the poet is vital because he incorporated elements of British romanticism before Emerson, Thoreau, and Longfellow and was among the earliest American poets not only to use native materials and American settings but also to treat them realistically. Emphatically Kibler’s summary of “Simms’s chief themes” in the introduction to Selected Poems convincingly situates Simms in the center of the romantic tradition ( SP xii, xviii–xix, xii). Furthermore, whereas Simms is best remembered as the author of two dozen novels, including The Yemassee (1835) and Woodcraft (1854), Simms himself repeatedly maintained that poetry was his first calling. In an unpublished letter to an unknown correspondent, written five years before he collected his verse in the two volumes of Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary and Contemplative (1853), Simms explains that although the public views him as a prose writer because of the popularity of his fiction and his productivity as an editor and critic, in fact, “Poetry I hold to be my forte.” 3 The year before he had explained that he has “never expected to realize money by verse -making in our day & in America,” but that he nevertheless regards “poetry as” his “forte” ( L 2:257). Yet again as late as 1860 Simms asserts, “Poetry, I hold to be my proper province” ( L 6:213). Moreover Simms believed that eventually his verse would rank higher than his fiction ( L 3:190).
Simms’s most prominent readers have been reluctant to share his own faith and stake in his poetry. In his biography of Simms Trent dismisses Simms’s poetry as a “failure” and laments that Simms’s commitment to poetry has forced him “to allude more often to Simms’s poetical ventures than their intrinsic worth would otherwise warrant”; indeed, Trent refers with approval to Simms’s “forgotten poetry.” Simms, Trent laments, not only kept “writing new verses, but, what is worse,” kept “publishing them.” “Only by courtesy,” Trent decides,” can one call Simms’s verse “poetry.” 4 But even Simms’s modern, sympathetic critics have undervalued his poetry. Two scholars connected to the monumental Letters pay no compliments to the poetry: When Donald Davidson in his introduction fleetingly treats the poems, he complains that “most of Simms’ poetry” seems “too obviously worked up” from literary sources rather than from “deeper” origins ( L 1:li); and T. C. Duncan Eaves, one of the editors of The Letters , elsewhere discounts the poetry, asserting that “few of Simms’s poems have any right of survival.” In his Twayne Series volume on Simms, J. V. Ridgely mentions Simms’s early books of poems but feels no need to analyze them and largely ignores the later mature poetry, for his poetry has “no significance, and it is unnecessary to disinter” it. And even Rayburn S. Moore, who published several essays sympathetic to Simms, including one for Guilds’s “Long Years of Ne glect ,” stunningly ignores Simms as a poetic influence on Paul Hamilton Hayne and states that Hayne, not Simms, “is the most substantial Southern poet of the nineteenth century”; moreover Moore’s list of “the three other nineteenth-century Southern poets of consequence” omits Simms in favor of Poe, Lanier, and Timrod. 5
Not all appraisals have been so dismissive, but when favorable they have been brief and less enthusiastic than Simms’s self-evaluation. For instance, Edd Winfield Parks, who authored William Gilmore Simms as Literary Critic , allows that Simms’s complete poetic canon could yield “only a small volume of excellent poems” but affirms that such a book “would entitle Simms to rank with the better American poets”; still, even he believes that Simms “over-valued his poetry.” Only Allen Tate rates Simms’s verse as highly as the prose, briefly making this general evaluation in his “Note on Southern Poetry”: “For the thousands who read” Simms’s “novels and his defense of slavery, a handful knew his poetry, though by any test it deserved as much reading as his prose.” 6 But even Tate falls short in his estimation compared to Simms’s own, which he offered upon the publication of Poems (1853). Simms confides to Evert Duyckinck what he thinks of his poetic achievement: “I flatter myself that my poetical works exhibit the highest phase of the Imaginative faculty which this country has yet exhibited, and the most philosophical in connection with it. This sounds to you very egotistical, perhaps, but I am now 47 years old, and do not fear to say to a friend what I think of my own labour. … My desire is rather to put myself on record for future judgment than to become a temporary cry of the hurrying mob” ( L 3:261–62). Simms similarly held a high view of his earlier volume Grouped Thoughts (1845), which he considered “the best collection of sonnets ever printed in America” ( L 2:111). Simms so believed in his poetry that he frequently paid some or all of the printer’s costs, and Grouped Thoughts presents just one such example.
The last several years have yielded signs that the critical tide is turning in favor of Simms and his belief in the lasting worth of his poetry. In Sacvan Bercovitch’s Cambridge History of American Literature , the volume on nineteenth-century poetry partly validates Simms’s claims. Its chronology of im -portant books of American poetry lists Grouped Thoughts as one of five worth including for 1845, and Poems Simms’s chief attempt to put his verse on record for posterity as one of four worthy books for 1853. Other indications that Kibler’s spade work is paying off, however slowly, include several articles on the poetry since 2003. Most notably David W. Newton convincingly defends Simms’s creative process as organically romantic and demonstrates the effectiveness of “The Streamlet”; Jason W. Johnson considers Simms’s formal experiments, thereby contradicting past critics’ claims that Simms is technically slipshod; and John D. Kerkering underlines Simms’s importance by comparing him to Whitman. 7
Two obstacles to readers’ sharing Tate’s, Simms’s, and some recent critics’ high regard for the poetry leap to mind. One is that Simms wrote so much poetry even excluding the many pseudonymous poems his contemporaries could not have ascribed to him he “managed to smother some really excellent work under the weight of too much mediocrity,” as Parks quips. Indeed, as Wimsatt observes, “the major reason that so few scholars have been willing to address the issue” of Simms’s “literary status” is that “discriminating assessment of Simms’s oeuvre demands” an “enormous amount of reading.” Another obstruction to readers’ recognition of Simms is that although anthologists such as Rufus Griswold and William Cullen Bryant regularly included Simms in their compilations, they tended to select poems that Simms called “the very worst I have written” ( L 5:355), and not his truly exemplary poems. One of the “very worst” poems Simms apparently had in mind is “The Edge of the Swamp,” which has been reprinted again and again, not only in Bryant’s Selections from the American Poets (1840), which Simms alludes to in his letter to Griswold, but also in Griswold’s The Poets and Poetry of America (1842), as well as in Readings in American Poetry (1843) and Homes of American Authors (1853). Sensitive to Simms’s preferences, Kibler eschews “The Edge of the Swamp” and “The Lost Pleiad,” another frequent choice of anthologists, for the modern edition of Simms’s poetry, Selected Poems . But other modern critics who give Simms passing attention in their accounts of nineteenth-century American poetry probe no deeper for samples than these usual suspects and simply parrot what has come before, thus reinforcing Simms’s marginalization as a minor poet. In The Cambridge History Barbara Packer limits her discussion of Simms to “By the Swanannoa” and “The Edge of the Swamp,” whereas Parks himself, who complains that an thologists have done little to separate Simms’s “good” poems “from the bad,” comments in his introduction on only “The Edge of the Swamp” and “The Lost Pleiad,” both of which he uses in his anthology of southern poetry. 8 In his recent Library of America edition American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century , John Hollander does no better, reprinting “By the Swanannoa” and “The Lost Pleiad.”
However, despite these obstacles and entrenched patterns of ne glect, Kib -ler’s landmark works The Poetry of William Gilmore Simms: An Introduction and Bibliography (1979), which has established Simms’s canon, and Selected Poems (1990), which has made a cross section of his better poems readily available finally enable scholars to treat Simms’s verse with the seriousness it deserves. Following Kibler’s lead that Simms’s place in the poetic canon needs to be reevaluated because of the work’s impressive quantity and quality and because it integrates influences of British romanticism before most other major American poets do, my study aims to analyze comprehensively and interpret Simms’s lifelong engagement with the major British romantic poets, especially Wordsworth. It will show not only that as poet and theorist Simms parallels these figures more extensively than any of his contemporaries, but also that he authentically incorporates their romantic traditions into American and southern landscapes (despite Trent’s claim that if Simms did write real poetry it would have been British). 9 He emulates their prog -ress from neoclassical themes and forms to lyric effusions of spontaneous feeling, blank-verse meditations like the conversation poem, and formal experiments in the sonnet; simultaneously he develops a pioneering American realism that encompasses local and regional places as well as some of the earliest sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans. In these poems Simms adapts Wordsworth’s realism and sense of place in such poems as “Michael” and “The Ruined Cottage.” In fact Simms’s ultimate achievement is that he cultivates a unifying romantic ecology worthy of Wordsworth. In his poetry, his criticism, and his daily life as a poet-planter-patriarch, Simms dwells in the particular ecosystem of Woodlands Plantation, and from this vantage he performs his universal role as poet-prophet practicing his holy craft.
Jonathan Bate’s description in The Song of the Earth of twentieth-century En glish poet Basil Bunting supplies an accurate analog to the canonical pre -dicament of the nineteenth-century American poet Simms. In addition Bate unwittingly suggests an ecological reason for recovering Simms’s bioregionally grounded verse. Like Simms, who stayed put in the South far from the New En gland of Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, Bunting lived and wrote about his own region, Northumbria. This practice separated him from the rootless modernists who migrated to the metropolitan literary centers such as London and Paris. In fact Bunting’s Wordsworthian commitment to his own region helps account for his exclusion from the modernist canon, according to Bate. Ironically Bunting called those who controlled the canon and those who called London and Oxbridge home “Southrons,” Simms’s term for himself and like-minded members of the “sacred circle” of southerners such as George Frederick Holmes and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker. Like Bunting, Simms has comparably suffered a loss of literary stature in relation to the northern writers of the American Renaissance. As David Newton astutely points out, “Unfortunately Simms’s contributions to the development of American literature during” 1850 to 1855 “have largely gone unnoticed.” By employing the “American Renaissance” to interpret the literature of this period, F. O. Mathiessen has emphasized the writers of New En gland and New York and thus has helped diminish Simms’s canoni -cal status, for, as Newton says, Mathiessen has redefined “what constitutes American cultural values and literary genres.” However, Newton argues, Simms’s poetry as represented in the 1853 volume Poems not only “anticipates Emerson’s attempt to situate Romanticism within a uniquely American context”; Simms’s best poems also reveal that he is “Emerson’s intellectual equal, and, at times, a superior poet.” 10
Significantly Simms not only pursues environmental themes before Thoreau, but also pursues them poetically with greater depth and breadth than Emerson. To adapt Bate, because in his best verse in the romantic mode Simms writes as “a bioregional poet,” the canon of American literature needs to recover him. As Bunting does, in his best poems Simms locates identity in place, tracing a web that not only intertwines the human with the natural and the animal worlds, but also harmonizes the entire ecological region, creating Wordsworth and Coleridge’s sense (in the latter’s “The Eolian Harp”) of “the one Life within us and abroad.” As in his prose that cultivates the soul and the soil of the South, in his poetry Simms aims to evoke the spirit of landscape, to which mere materialists stay blind. For Simms “the earth itself” ministers “to the soul of man” ( PP 31), and one function of poets is to open “our sympathies” to “the mysterious teachings of the natural world” ( PP 28). In this paramount regard Simms the poet speaks to our contemporary moment as powerfully as Thoreau or Wendell Berry.
Besides his trailblazing romantic ecology, Simms commands recognition both for his commitment to and characterization of the poet as high priest of American culture and for his lifelong dedication to the craft of poetry. Like Wordsworth, who in the preface to Lyrical Ballads ascribes to the poet an “exalted” status, and Shelley, who in his “Defence of Poetry” associates poets with legislators, inventors, teachers, and prophets, Simms similarly elevates the poet. In Father Abbott (1849), Simms defines the poet as “a Prophet” who “is decreed to be a leader a guide a discoverer” ( FA 168). Ultimately poets serve as “potent handmaids of religion” using “the diviner impulses” of poetry to free “our souls, at moments, from the miserable toils and vulgar anxieties which form the clogs to the soul’s progress upon the earth” ( FA 103, 99–100). This role as “a social benefactor” coincides with Shelley’s portrait of the poet redeeming “from decay the visitations of the divinity in man” (PS 532). This role serves an ultimately religious function that parallels Simms’s sense of poetry in “The Age of Gold” as a “holy craft” meant to combat the acquisitive instincts that starve the soul; significantly it also parallels Wordsworth’s idea in “The World Is Too Much With Us” that “getting and spending” blunt our feelings and spirit and leave us hungry for visionary experience in nature.
Simms’s lecture Poetry and the Practical , which he delivered in three versions between 1851 and 1854, underlines Shelley’s point that poetry is needed more than ever in periods of selfishness and of excessive “accumulation of the materials of external life” (PS 531), an idea first advanced by Words -worth in the preface where he delineates his aim to write poems “to counter -act” such effects of industrialization as the blunting of the mind. Sounding like the Wordsworth of The Prelude , Simms explains that through nature’s ministries “we behold God himself every where about us” ( PP 26) so that we feel the “soul grows lifted” and feel “that the world has not stript” us “of all” our “sensibilities” ( PP 36). And it is the poet, Simms claims, who best interprets and reveals the “sacramental” in nature. Thus the poet’s “great work” is to unite “his fellow men” with the “spiritual truths” inherent in “universal” nature, and in this “dedicated” ser vice the poet “may divinely minister to each” within “the whole heart of humanity” ( PP 46). These sentiments all emphasize the religious and spiritual powers of romantic poetry and the faculty of imagination. As Marilyn Gaull has explained, in the romantic period “the imagination acquired a religious function” and brought “divinity, the sacred, however it was conceived, back into human affairs.” Poets revived “their ancient priestly roles as mediators between the sacred and the secular,” their poetry becoming “a religious surrogate.” 11 Hence for Simms “the higher mission of Poetry” links it to religion since through imagination a poem can “prepare the soul for still nobler conditions” than those of the material world ( PP 49).
Though Guilds and others may find Simms’s literary legacy in his fiction, Simms committed himself early to poetry and never stopped writing and publishing it, often in revised versions. In 1827, barely twenty-one years old, Simms already looked to the future to receive his due as a poet; he was in it for the long haul, thus displaying an ambition comparable to Keats’s. In the dedicatory preface to his second volume, Early Lays , Simms chafes at a Boston publication’s omitting his first collection of poetry, Lyrical and Other Poems , from its notice of new books, but he affirms that “I am willing, patiently to await the resolves of Time, to award the judgment which the Boston Editor has apparently so studiously endeavored to avoid” ( EL viii). Despite this perceived slight Simms’s initial collections though issued by Charleston publishers received favorable reviews from the northern press. A critic as influential as Timothy Flint wrote about both books in separate articles for the Western Monthly Review ( Intro 57), and William Cullen Bryant, who became a dear friend of Simms, admitted that the debut collection suffered from “blemishes” but determined it evinced “no ordinary degree of poetical talent.” Given the lack of polish of some of the early poems, it is surprising that the New York Literary Gazette and American Atheneum gushingly placed Simms “among the first of American Poets” in its praise of Lyrical and Other Poems . 12 In fact, later in life Simms told Griswold that the early books contained “a great deal of very sorry stuff” and he went so far as to revise many of these poems for republication in the Southern Literary Messenger ( L 5:356). Still his early critics were not all wrong to praise some of this poetry, as we will see in chapters 1 and 4 . Given that he was only twenty when the first book came out and that the second book contained a surplus of even earlier composition, Simms’s beginnings as a poet are perhaps comparable to Keats’s at the same point.

Washington Irving and His Friends: (left to right) William Gilmore Simms, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wads worth Longfellow, Nathaniel Parker Willis, William Hickling Prescott, Irving, James Kirke Paulding, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, John Pendleton Kennedy, James Fenimore Cooper, and George Bancroft. Engraving, courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia
Impressively Simms began “doggrelizing” at age eight or nine, he tells Gris wold, and started publishing verse in the Charleston papers at fifteen. His poem “The Ring,” written at thirteen and comprising “4 or 6 cantos” based on stories from the Italian, discloses Simms’s early ambitions ( L 1:285). Consequently it is fitting that no less a literary figure than Hugh Swinton Legaré, the leading critic in Charleston who harbored affinities for both the neoclassic and the romantic, “recognized and encouraged Simms’s poetic efforts as a juvenile,” as Guilds reports. 13 With this mentoring, Simms progressed to publish his first book in 1825, when he was just nineteen. In closed heroic couplets reminiscent of Philip Freneau, Simms eulogized the recently deceased Revolutionary War hero Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. But the Charleston papers were beginning to reprint poems of the En glish romantics, Guilds explains, and Simms felt their influence, as many lyrics in the first two books as well the third, The Vision of Cortes (1829), attest. Simms’s next important book was the imaginative narrative Atalantis (1832), and for this sixth volume he significantly secured publication through the New York house of J. J. Harper. It was reviewed widely, even in En gland by poet Thomas Campbell ( L 2:221–22). With this publication ends his early period.
As several critics have noticed, Byron exerted a major influence over Simms’s early efforts, though Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley affect this verse too. 14 But with Simms’s remarriage and move to the Woodlands Plantation in 1836, his poetry becomes grounded in place and grows more distinctive and polished, as well as more markedly Wordsworthian. The next decade and a half was an extremely productive time for Simms. His key books of poems include Southern Passages and Pictures (1839), which Simms felt in 1843 contained not only much of his best verse but poetry more original than is common in America ( L 1:362, 378); Grouped Thoughts and Scattered Fancies (1845), his notable collection of sonnets; The Cassique of Accabee (1849); The City of the Silent (1850), a successful reversion to the neoclassical mode that garnered ten reviews, among them laudatory responses in Harper’s and the International Magazine; Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary and Contemplative (1853), his two-volume collected edition that put his life’s work in poetry on record; and Areytos (1860), an expanded edition of his 1846 collection of lyrics praised by Poe. The Civil War and its aftermath effectively ended Simms’s career as an author of books, but in 1866 a New York publisher issued his edited anthology, War Poetry; though only seven of the poems appear under Simms’s name, Kibler has determined that Simms actually contributed twenty-seven works to the collection ( Intro 478). To be sure, Simms continued to write poems until his death in 1870 at age sixty-four, despite suffering from cancer and other ailments as well as intense financial pressures during his final years. During his final decade, when he received very little recognition as a poet, Simms nevertheless wrote many of his best works, many of them intensely personal, some as Kibler says evincing a move from romanticism to existentialism ( SP xv). A short list would include “Sonnet to Hon. W. Porcher Miles,” “Ballad Oh! My Boys,” “The Kiss Behind the Door,” “Among the Ruins,” new versions of “Chilhowee, the Indian Village” and “From the Study Windows,” and in 1870 his final work, “Sketches from Hellas,” an ambitious nine-part poem. Clearly Simms dedicates himself to poetry almost upon achieving literacy and he practices the holy craft to the bitter end. I think he engaged in journalism and novel-writing both to serve the larger mission of literature, especially the cultivation of American literature, and to make a living. He well knew that most poets are poor, but agreed with Coleridge that poetry supplies “its own ex -ceeding great reward” ( PP 92).
Chapter 1 examines Simms’s early neoclassicism as well as his first forays in the romantic traditions of Byron, Keats, Shelley, and the Gothic and ex -plores how Simms, like Byron, from time to time revives the Augustan, Cava -lier, and Gothic modes even after his mature adoption of Wordsworthian romanticism. Chapter 2 analyzes his poetic theories and practical criticism, which like his poetry is deeply grounded in romantic perspectives. His re -marks on craft and on his contemporaries’ verse establish his commitment to artistry, and comparison of early and later drafts of his poetry demonstrates his own execution of poetic technique, putting the lie to claims by Hayne and others that Simms always wrote hurriedly without revision and care for form. Next, chapter 3 isolates Simms’s involvement in the romantic revival of the sonnet and argues that his experimentation with the form exceeds even Wordsworth’s and Keats’s and embodies the romantic ideal of the organic intertwining of feeling, process, and poetic structure. Chapter 4 more fully interrogates the influence of Wordsworth on Simms and argues that his most accomplished poems emulate Wordsworth’s lyrics and contemplative verse in his approach to nature and in his belief in its sublimity. Finally, in chapter 5 , building again on Wordsworth’s example and Bate’s ecocriticism, I situate Simms’s romantic poetry within the context of his ecology as he lived it at Woodlands and as he wrote about the earth and the interrelations of all its living organisms in his nonfiction prose. Moreover this culminating chapter shows how his romantic ecology enfolds his aims to create a native literature grounded in what Jonathan Bate terms bioregionalism, or we might call a realism of locality comparable to Words -worth’s Lake District poem “Michael.” What Bunting means to Northumbria and Wordsworth means to Cumberland, Simms means to the American South.
From Classic to Romantic
In From Classic to Romantic Walter Jackson Bate has described the change from neoclassicism to romanticism in western culture. He depicts a “transition in concepts of art and taste” from Augustan rationality to romantic subjective feeling that embodies not only a “subsiding of” certain classical “values” but also “the perseverance and readaptation of others.” In America especially, the neoclassical perseveres well into the nineteenth century. Even after the delayed rising of romanticism, neoclassical ideas and forms linger until transcendentalism transforms mainstream literature. The conditions of literary culture in America militated against any kind of massive romantic movement, unlike what happened in En gland and Germany. As Barbara Packer explains, at the turn of the century “American poets who were born a year apart and lived within fifty miles of one another often appeared to live in entirely different eras of literary history.” 1 This separation of poets means that the romantic “rebellion” developed haphazardly and discontinuously.
Moreover the neoclassical coexisted with the romantic beyond its first flowerings because in America, unlike in En gland, the Augustan mode symbolizes the republican ideals of the Revolution. The closed heroic couplet, the form of Pope’s and Dryden’s translations of Homer and Virgil, called to mind links between early America and classical Greece and Rome, the new nation’s democratic, republican prototypes. As a result of this pervasive classical atmosphere, the few important poets continued to depend on neo -classical form well into the nineteenth century and indirectly influenced budding writers. Philip Freneau employs balanced heroic couplets in “On Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man.” In addition Joel Barlow, whose favorite poem was Pope’s “Windsor Forest,” crafts his Columbiad (1807) in heroic couplets the year after Simms’s birth. As Packer maintains, since neoclassicism connected Roman civic ideals to Augustan literary style, it helped the style en -dure. 2 Predictably several of Simms’s first poems followed this neoclassical trend.
But with the gradual shift to romanticism, Packer offers that poets in the North increasingly looked from Pope to Wordsworth while their counterparts in the South turned to Thomas Moore and Lord Byron. This assertion is partly true, but overstated. Packer parallels the line of Edd Winfield Parks, who has written that the young Simms preferred Byron and that Words -worth mattered to him only as he matured. 3 Indeed, in 1864 Simms himself quipped that “From 15 to 40 a man of blood enjoys Byron & Moore,” but then preferring “thought” to “passion” he reaches “a condition of mind to do” Wordsworth “justice” ( L 4:443). But as we shall see in chapter 4 , even early Simms poems such as “The Streamlet” (1829) embrace the Words -worthian mode and others from the 1820s bear the stamp of Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge. Furthermore, Parks’s notion that Simms moves away from Byron as he matures is too simple since, like Byron, Simms never wholly shifts from one influence to another. Like Byron himself, from time to time throughout his career Simms returns from romantic lyricism to the neoclassical and to the Gothic when these modes fit his subjects.
So, though Simms departs from the heroic couplet after publishing his first book, Monody (1825), taking up lyric and narrative styles of the romantics, Simms later revives the Augustan style when it is apt: in Charleston, and Her Satirists: A Scribblement (1848) and in The City of the Silent (1850). Moreover, well after his conversion to Wordsworth, not only does he publish Byronic love songs and lyrics into his sixties, but so too does he adapt Don Juan as late as 1843 in Donna Florida . As a poet in his teens and twenties Simms practiced his craft by catering to several models and influences, and never cast off what he learned, believing “every book must have its own style, peculiar to its character, rather than to that of the writer, and the author may show just as much, or just as little of himself, as he thinks proper.” 4
As Simms came of age in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, Charleston, which played a proud role in the Revolution, cultivated the classical both in architecture and in literature. Gene Waddell’s survey of Greek Revival architecture in Charleston notes that heavy building occurred in the city before the Revolution and immediately after, but little between 1807 and 1845. The hiatus stemmed largely from obstacles in economic trade as the Napoleonic wars dragged on and from later tariffs that also curbed commerce. Until the 1830s, when Simms turned decisively toward roman -ticism, most buildings in Charleston presented Roman rather than Greek elements, thereby reinforcing Jefferson’s evocations of republican Rome. Charleston architect Robert Mills, who studied with Jefferson, eventually became the federal architect. Earlier in his career, however, Mills introduced the Greek Revival in his hometown. The Fireproof Building (1820–1829) owes much to the Roman-based constructions of Palladio, but it prominently presents porticoes with Greek proportions. Waddell observes that other buildings erected in the 1820s contain features of Greek architecture and thus display Mills’s inspiration. For instance, Waddell explains, before Mills finished his Fireproof Building, “Frederick Wesner was adding a portico with Greek features to Gabriel Manigault’s South Carolina Social Hall,” propped by “very elongated, unfluted Doric columns.” Simms would have encountered other Manigault constructions of classical style as well: the Charleston Orphan House Chapel (1802), which sports four Doric columns beneath a pediment and arched doorways and windows; the U.S. Bank, later City Hall (1801); and the Joseph Manigault House gate lodge (ca. 1790), distinguished by its circular form and domed roof, plus its arched entry fronted by Doric columns under a pediment. 5 The young Simms, then, assimilated the classicism of his physical environment every day he walked out his front door.
In Charleston neoclassicism maintained a vivid presence not only in architecture but also in literature. 6 As Michael O’Brien writes, Charleston was “fastidious about the literature of the ancients.” Tellingly education was still largely classical and for many it included authors such as Virgil and Horace as well as the translations of Dryden and Pope. Born in Charleston nine years before Simms, the writer and statesman Hugh Swinton Legaré (1792–1843) entered the South Carolina College in 1811 and following the sophomore curriculum studied The Iliad , Horace, and Roman antiquities; upon admission he had been appraised as having already mastered the freshman course and all prerequisites including Virgil and Latin grammar. In addition, during his college time Legaré indepen dently taught and delighted himself by reading Pope. Likewise, though Simms complained of the quality of his formal education, he too gained early acquaintance with literature in Latin. According to John Caldwell Guilds, at the grammar school run by the College of Charleston, “Simms read greedily in the classics and learned enough Latin” to translate Roman authors “into free-flowing En glish.” 7 While learning his bit of Latin, he would have walked the streets of Charleston, with its Roman and Greek Revival architecture visibly manifesting the ideals of order, balance, and harmony he read about.
In general, while intellectually linked to neoclassicism, the culture of Charleston manifested itself rarely in writing. O’Brien states, “Men had read, had talked together, had even delivered learned or light discourses before societies and colleges, but few had thought it crucial to publish thought.” As a result, George Frederick Holmes called South Carolina the “Attica of America.” Two local literary models were James Louis Petigru (1789–1863) and Hugh Swinton Legaré. Petigru hung out at Russell’s bookstore with Simms and Paul Hamilton Hayne in the 1850s and had earlier led the local Literary and Philosophical Society. Though Petigru “was well-schooled in romanticism,” according to Lacy Ford, he never embraced it. Petigru instead adopted “the neoclassical idiom of Enlightenment rationalism” and cultivated the literary styles of Pope and Dryden. 8 Still, the book Simms chose to dedicate to Petigru is the decisively romantic Vision of Cortes (1829), not Monody or Charleston, and Her Satirists . Perhaps the young disciple of Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats wished to nudge his mentor from knowledge of romanticism to appreciation of it.
Legaré was an even more prominent advocate of literary neoclassicism. Holmes claimed that “The Greeks and Romans were to Legaré living men,” and Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian especially inspired him. Though partly attracted to the romantic, and Byron above all, Legaré believed that classicism surpassed romanticism through its more artful unity and clarity of style. 9 Even in his preference for the classical Legaré followed Byron’s example. Legaré explains, “Lord Byron’s speculative opinions in literature, were … all in favour of the classical models. His preference to Pope is owing to this.” Until 1828 Legaré voiced his classical beliefs in speech, but from this time onward he frequently expressed them in writing. He contributed essays to the Southern Review with titles such as “Classical Learning,” “Roman Literature,” and “The Roman Orators,” thus clearly evincing his intellectual attachment to the ancients of Greece and Rome. As Parks has written, the youthful poets of Charleston heeded Legaré’s ideas, for he was “the Samuel Johnson” of his native city. 10 Simms himself reports that Legaré encouraged him when he was just starting out: “I sang the Ashley, in heroics, a thousand lines, when I was a boy of seventeen in heroics, by the way, which won the praise of Hugh Legaré, then one of our local literary oracles in Carolina.” Legaré, who owned an estate on the Ashley River, commented, “‘Yes, sir, it deserves to be sung in high heroics. It is a noble and poetical river’” ( L 1:cxx). Simms includes a poem in couplets called “Ashley River” in The Vision of Cortes , but it is much shorter than the version he describes here.
Like Petigru and Legaré, Simms maintained respect for, if not allegiance to, classical literature and the neoclassical style of Pope and Dryden. In the 1830s the essayists in the Southern Agriculturalist salted their articles on farming with passages from Horace, Virgil, and other Greek and Roman writers. 11 Similarly, in the 1840s, Simms quotes Virgil’s Georgics in two essays in the Magnolia to make points about irrigation and balancing soil, plants, and seasons. 12 Moreover, in a review of John Conington’s translation of The Aeneid of Virgil , Simms heaps praise on both Dryden and Pope; he calls them “masters.” With the same enthusiasm he invokes Pope as an authority in the “Editorial Bureau” of the Southern and Western Monthly Magazine . Citing “Essay on Criticism,” Simms quotes Pope, “who tells us, with absolute propriety, ‘In every work regard the writer’s end.’” However, when considering the style of heroic couplets Simms grows ambivalent. In the review of The Aeneid , which Conington has rendered in octosyllabic couplets, Simms evaluates Pope’s metrical and formal control: “The old translators were content with the ordinary En glish heroic line. And that was good a famous verse, indeed, in the hands of” Pope, whose style Simms judges “flexible,” “very smooth and musical, though a trifle monotonous but occasionally very grand and powerful.” 13
More than two decades after crafting Monody in heroic couplets Simms was to return to the neoclassical period style in Charleston, and Her Satirists and in The City of the Silent , but his remarks in an 1829 issue of the Southern Literary Gazette suggest his torn perspective on the closed heroic couplet never changed. In the article “Association Poetry and Music,” Simms ranks blank verse “higher than a mere metrical adjustment of feet” one finds in “the heroic couplet,” which contains “infinite constraint in the mea sure it -self.” However, Simms next asserts, “we do believe that Pope is the only poet of any age, who would have ventured to translate the Iliad in rhyme; and certainly no one else would have succeeded so well.” 14 Thus, steeped in the classics and in Dryden and Pope, surrounded by classical architecture on every street in Charleston, and no doubt wanting to impress his neoclassical elders such as Petigru and Legaré, the nineteen-year-old poet naturally turned to the closed heroic couplet for his first published book, no matter what misgivings he would soon feel about neoclassicism.
Simms’s first book of verse, Monody, on the Death of Gen. Charles Cotes worth Pinckney , closely follows the conventions of neoclassical poetry still current in American literature. The 184-line poem appeared between August 16, 1825 the date Pinckney died and September 14 when the Charleston Courier printed a favorable review. Though urging the young poet to study neoclassicists and to resist developments in modern verse, the paper praised the poem for demonstrating “talent,” and two weeks later presented what John Guilds calls “an even more laudatory review.” 15 As Guilds suggests, Simms showed alertness in choosing a national hero as his subject since it inherently drew upon his readers’ sympathetic interests. The public that self-consciously looked to the young republic’s past and lionized its military figures naturally would appreciate a poem in praise of Pinckney (1754–1825). In Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys , George C. Rogers explains General Pinckney’s social importance. His family predated the Revolution and with a few other elite clans had formed the city’s “patriotic leadership.” While studying in En -gland, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney had spoken out against the Stamp Act and upon his return actively helped lead the colonists’ cause in war. Eventually reaching the rank of brigadier general, Pinckney took Fort Johnson, served a while on Washington’s staff, and while defending Charleston as it fell to the invading redcoats became a prisoner of war. When invited to switch sides, Pinckney patriotically replied, “I entered into this Cause after much reflection, & through principle, my heart is altogether American.” 16 This heroic championing of American freedom provides the focus of Simms’s eulogy for Pinckney.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Engraving by Johnson, Fry & Co. (1862), courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia
Aptly Monody adheres to the neoclassical conventions of the panegyric. Like Freneau’s “On the Death of a Republican Patriot and Statesman” (1785), which honored General Joseph Reed, Monody employs closed heroic couplets, a form, Barbara Packer asserts, that is “public and political” and thus well suits “panegyric and satire.” Moreover this Augustan mode particularly fits patriotic content, since through poems such as Freneau’s the heroic couplet “connected with the first effervescence of national spirit and the dawn of republican hopes,” as Packer puts it. 17 Simms eulogizes Pinckney as “ Our Chief ” “when infant Freedom nursed in war’s embrace, / Bared the red steel, and battled for her race” (85, 79–80). In addition, Simms lauds Pinckney for enduring among “the sacred, godlike few, / Who felt their cause was just” as they fought “the invading band” of Britons (81–82, 70); Pinckney’s “arm was first in conflict, link’d with those / Brave spirits who” survive him (93–94). However, perhaps the highest praise a neoclassicist can bestow consists of comparison to the ancient Greeks. Thus Simms makes Pinckney and his compatriots “Joint Spirits of the brave, who, proudly free, / Hallow’d with blood, thy plain Thermopylae!” (84–85). Later, Simms again depicts Pinckney as the consummate defender of native ground in the Grecian mold: “ever at the head / Of those brave spirits, who their best blood shed / On plains, streams, mountains, rich as Greece can boast” (127–29). In good Augustan fashion, all representations here of Pinckney’s military career keep to the abstract and general, as Dr. Johnson would advise.
Nevertheless Simms further underlines Pinckney’s laudatory status through the pictorial emblems of the sun and the oak, which symbolically restore the hierarchy broken by Britain’s tyranny. The British “foe had bound” the patriots “with its with’ring chain” (54), tyrannously shackling American liberty and thus violating the Chain of Being. Their actions generated “Murder,” breaking “the seal / Of Being” (47–48); consequently “Nature’s Rights demanded” that patriots such as Pinckney fight “in freedom’s cause” (124, 133). To represent Pinckney’s heroic stature in this fight for rights, Simms links him with images ranked highest in the hierarchy: the sun among planets and the oak among vegetation. The poem opens by describing the sun setting, its rays hovering above the horizon “as ’midst the wave his courser he delays” (1–4). This inverted poetic diction that conjoins the sun and a horse probably invokes the association of Apollo, the sun god, and his chariot a mythic personification memorably painted by Guido Reni in Aurora (1613), which influenced the eighteenth-century poet James Thom -son. 18 Simms connects this setting to Pinckney when introducing the chief, first calling him “a glorious spark” in battle (88), and next figuring his death as a sunset:
Thine arm was first in conflict, link’d with those Brave spirits who have seen thy ev’ning close, And glorious to the last who watch thy ray, As slow descending from the glare of day. (93–96)
Similarly, in representing the revolutionary war as a “tempest” (15), Simms approximates Pinckney’s stalwart valor through the emblem of the oak that stands for him. “The hoary oak” refused to submit to the “the angry wind,” and though, unlike him, “all around bow’d to its restless course, / Nor dared to look, that Oak withstood its force!” (13–20). Moreover, to parallel the oak that fosters “the young sapling” (41), Simms attaches to Pinckney the epithet “patriot sire” (69). Through the sun and oak, then, Simms evokes the Chain of Being and suggests Pinckney’s role in righting the hierarchy broken by British usurpation of American liberties.
The style of Monody also meets neoclassical expectations. Aside from deploying the form of the closed heroic couplet, Simms’s metrical sub -stitutions and syntactic inversions reflect the period’s standard. For instance, in addition to several initial trochees and spondees (80, 83, 84, 94), Simms emulates Milton’s reserv ing the medial trochee for abrupt reversals of rhythm: In Paradise Lost the “abundance” of Eden needs “Par ta / kers, and / un cropt / falls to /the ground” (4.730–31, emphasis added); comparably Simms writes, “Whilst all / a round / bow’d to / its rest / less course ” (19, emphasis added). And just as Pope uses inversion to effect rhyme and maintain his iambic meter, Simms for instance rhymes “wreath” by inverting “Kings their crowns bequeath” (139–40) and rhymes “blends” by inverting “that Sun his ray extends” (9–10). Syntactically Simms further relies on balance and parallelism. Two samples of perfect balance include these lines. In the first, the conjunction and ties two strings comprising an infinitive, a possessive modifier, and a noun: “T’enrich her bosom, and to waft her sails” (64). And in the second example, Simms balances noun phrases of an article, an adjective, and a noun: “An Empires ruin, and a sparrow’s fall” (120). Sometimes the effect of balance is partial, as in “Each valley smiled, and every hill was green” (68); and in “Stretch’d its wide arms, and dared it as it past” (16). So Simms skillfully creates the classical balance he gleaned from Pope and gazed at among Manigault’s pediments and columns.
Finally Monody fulfills neoclassical conventions through its poetic diction and personification of abstract ideas, with Simms’s models here more likely minor poets like Thomas Gray and Samuel Johnson than masters like Pope and Dryden. Three times Simms echoes Gray’s use of “attire” in his “Sonnet on the Death of Richard West.” In line 61, just as Gray’s “fields resume their green attire” (4), Simms’s “Verdure had clothed the lofty Mountain’s brow”; and the obverse occurs when war has stripped “the vale” of its “green” and “Nature was clothed in sadness” (27), an elaborate, indirect, and poetic way of saying the fields were bare. Last, Simms again copies Gray’s diction to describe “the western sky” that wears a “purple robe” (1). Other examples of poetic diction include “even” for “evening” and the stream that “wanton’d” while it “wooed” the breeze (11, 62–63). Personi -fication is even more prevalent, as in Johnson’s “Vanity of Human Wishes”: Besides “smiling Peace” spreading “her white wing” (57–58), Simms gives us “Disease’s arm” and “Care” that doesn’t sleep (49), as well as the double personification of “infant Freedom nursed in war’s embrace” (79). Clearly Monody illustrates the young Simms’s saturation in neoclassicism, and an early ability to blend conventional style with apt public subjects. The classical style suits the eulogy well, for the poem fixes the memory of Pinckney, a communal hero, and forms in verse his “trophied bust” (183). 19
In the late 1820s, as Simms began to solidify his romantic sensibility and style, he seemingly left the neoclassical mode behind, but like his model Byron who returned to satire and admiration of Pope after his shift from the couplets of En glish Bards to the bleeding-heart romanticism of Childe Harold , so too did Simms revive the heroic couplet when years later the style fit his subject. Two notable examples are The City of the Silent , a public poem written for the dedication of Magnolia Cemetery, and Charleston, and Her Satirists , a biting rebuttal composed in the spirit of Pope’s Dunciad .
Simms delivered The City of the Silent at a public ceremony consecrating Magnolia Cemetery, where he himself would be buried in 1870. The artist Charles Fraser also delivered an address at the ceremony and it was later published. Edward P. Jones, a Charleston architect, designed the cemetery, located north of the city near the Cooper and Ashley Rivers in what was then a rural area. According to J. Tracy Power, it included “family plots surrounded by stone coping or cast-iron fences; winding streets and paths with cast-iron benches; ornamental trees and shrubs such as magnolias, live oaks, cedars, and hollies; a small lake; and a vista of the marsh and the nearby river.” 20 In a letter to Evert Duyckinck, Simms explains his poem’s genesis. Just as he was set to leave Charleston for Woodlands in early November to do some hunting, he was “appealed to to prepare a poem for the opening of a great public cemetery near Charleston a task,” Simms says, “which I found it impossible to evade” ( L 3:73).
Simms embraced the chance to speak for his society. In this neoclassical poem, he follows Horace and Pope in not only delighting but also teaching; still, he is also serv ing the ideal of the romantic poet, fulfilling the poet’s holy craft as he defines it a couple years later in Poetry and the Practical . As Kibler observes, “Throughout his career, he felt that as poet, he should voice the sentiments of his community,” thereby fulfilling the role of seer, prophet, and sage ( Intro 77). Though the poem stretches to 648 lines and though Simms completed it in less than two weeks for his reading on November 19, 1850, the public apparently received the poem enthusiastically. The Charles -ton publishers Walker and James released an edition of five hundred copies in the middle of February despite the 1850 date on the title page and it was “nearly exhausted” by March 10 ( L 3:96–97). Moreover the poem received wide attention from reviewers, not only in the local Charleston papers but also in the Southern Literary Messenger, DeBow’s, Harper’s , and the International Magazine . According to Guilds, “nearly all” these reviews were “favorable.” 21 The poem pleased Simms well enough that he included it in volume one of his collected poetry, Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary and Contemplative (1853).
Though written hastily and for a public occasion, Simms’s dedicatory poem achieves a broad cultural reference and an impressive style that gives it more than passing, local interest. To explain the universal human impulse to “shrine the dear ones pass’d from day” ( P 1:61), Simms first explores what lost ancient cultures can teach us. The “memorials” of these empires, though “silent,” still “teach” a “moral to our shrinking hearts”; we revere “these silent dwellings of the unknown dead” because “the echo from their lonely towers, / Speaks for the fate that yet may fall on ours” ( P 1:113–16, 120–24). For examples, Simms explores the Mexican ruins of Copán and Palenque, awed by their silences that “speak for empires gone.” In “mute homage” Simms imagines in the near-chiasmus of a balanced couplet the musings of a “thoughtful wanderer” amid the “Realms of the silent” ( P 1:63–67, 88): “What deeds were theirs what mighty works they wrought? / What Faith they cherish’d? what their toils of Thought?” ( P 1:85–86). But in the ruins of “Our kindred races” Simms finds in any “monument, without a name” ( P 1:151, 160) a noble striving worth our awe and pathos. Like Joseph Campbell comparing the common spiritual links among world religions, Simms honors the sacred impulses of ancient pagan cultures:
We bend in awe beneath each mournful shade, And yield our worship where the God hath sway’d. … In the great shrines their Fate hath left us still. These were their temples, noble, vast, and high, They honor’d thus no lowly Deity! ( P 1:163–68)
Simms proceeds to illustrate the desire to build temples and towers through Egyptian, Greek, and Roman samples, concluding that all cultures erect shrines to keep memory alive, to “keep / A filial watch o’er their” ancestors’ “sleep” ( P 1:239–40). As in his sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans, here Simms demonstrates an early form of multiculturalism.
Also universal, the poem maintains, is the filial practice of shrining “the form from which the soul hath fled” and making “The grave” into “a temple,” thus honoring “the remains of man!” ( P 1:284, 311, 318). Simms provides a history of burial rites, ranging “Wide as the world” and “Back, through the vista of five thousand years” ( P 1:285, 315). He surveys the rituals of the Egyptians, the Abyssinians, the Etrurians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Simms praises the “household love” that deifies the ashes resulting from the Roman rites of cremation and movingly observes the hopes of mourners to mingle their own ashes “in the self-same urn,” thereby uniting “in death” all the faithful “hearts” ( P 1:505–12).
Despite these significant links to ancient cultures, Simms ultimately calls their rituals “barbarian” and “false” and turns his listeners’ attention to the Christian practices of their own civilization and of Magnolia Cemetery. He notes the proximity of Fort Moultrie and rehearses the catalog of illustrious patriots Americans still honor, just as the monuments at Palenque would have honored their good and great. But what no doubt would have most moved his audience is the turn in the penultimate verse-paragraph to the “other loved and lost ones” whose “sacred shrines” the crowd has also met to consecrate ( P 1:595, 592). This passage is general and replete with personifications Grief, Love, Reverence, Contemplation, Passion, Repentance, Hope, and Duty. But it corresponds to an earlier passage that introduces the importance of burial. Just before launching into his history of burial rites, Simms depicts a burial in nature that seems based on funerals at Woodlands, where he had already buried children, where “With reverent hands the kindred dust we bear, / To sacred shadows of the wood repair” ( P 1:259–60). Amid “solitude” and “guardian tree,” Simms imagines for a loved one’s “last dwelling some selected place, / Some shady copse, or isle some spot of green, / By oak and elm secure with leafy screen” ( P 1:280–81, 266–68). Spiritually Simms leans more to Pan than to priests, as this passage perhaps indicates, but shrewdly reading his audience and understanding his purpose, he aptly concludes The City of the Silent with some pat Christian pieties.
Though this last quotation underscores Simms’s more recent romantic focus, much of the poem showcases his gracefulness as Augustan stylist. Like the other neoclassical work we have examined, Simms here follows Pope’s model for the heroic couplet, with only a few metrical departures. Lines 15 and 16, for instance, seem to allow for anapestic substitutions:
Themselves, / in shad / owy folds / of cloud / and dun, Depart, / like mour / ners, fol / lowing still / the sun.
But lines of syntactical balance and parallelism abound, such as the earlier quoted couplet that forms chiasmus or this couplet about ruins that are pagan but nevertheless expressive of the soul: “Their altars sacred, though obscure their faith, / Their labors living, though themselves in death” ( P 1:161–62). Besides balanced parallelism, these lines exhibit a neoclassical device Simms fails to exploit in his earlier Augustan efforts, anaphora, or repetition at the start of successive lines. Overall, he loads many of his lines with the hallmark of syntactic harmony, often coupled with alliteration, as in “The halls of learning, and the homes of art” ( P 1:198). Stylistically then, despite at times being spiced by Simms’s more natural romantic mode, The City of the Silent matches its public theme with skillfully deployed neoclassical couplets and rhetorical devices.
Charleston, and Her Satirists appeared in two separately issued pamphlets in late 1848. Simms called it “a local satire” and explained its genesis to Nathaniel Beverley Tucker: “It was written at a couple of sittings standings rather and at the request of some Gentlemen of Charleston; the people of that goodly city being greatly outraged at a spiteful pamphlet which purported to be from the pen of a Yankee woman, who revenged herself on the community by a lampoon, in resentment at the loss (it is said) of a lover a lad whom she chased from college. This is the story. The portions of my scribblement that may interest you will be such as compare characteristics of North & South. The occasion was a good one for the utterance of some severities which were more legitimately bestowed by a native pen” ( L 2:504). The “local” nature of the poem perhaps accounts for the lack of reviews, and in fact Simms clearly considered the publication minor for he signed it “By a City Bachelor” (when he was really twelve years married and housed most of the year at Woodlands). Nor did Simms collect it in Poems . Indeed, James Henry Hammond told Simms that the poem seemed so “unequal” he could “hardly think it all” by Simms, though it did contain “touches equal to Pope,” meaning the “parts undoubtedly” written by Simms ( L 2:465n).
The work at which Simms aims his satire is Charleston: A Poem (1848), its author identified in its preface as a northern lady, though in Simms’s own preface he assumes the poet is actually male. In this preface Simms announces his twofold goals: to dissent “from the propriety of” some of the lady’s criti -cisms, and thus to defend Charleston and the South; but also, in fairness, “to confirm the justice of some of the satirist’s points of censure,” for Simms ad -mits, “Charleston has many faults and foibles, the whole State indeed is open to criticism vulnerable in its vanities, and particularly so in its politics. It will do no harm to draw attention to these subjects.” 22 So, like a good neoclassicist, in Charleston, and Her Satirists , Simms wields the mode to ridicule both the North and the South, lampooning their vices and follies, and thereby teaching proper conduct and entertaining through witty heroic couplets.
Though Simms opens the satire by admitting that “Doubtless we” the South “need the lash” and that “All people have their faults,” he skewers the northern traveler for her petty, shallow complaints and her “halting verse” (1, 315, 643). If the lady satirist has found the fashionable bachelors of Charleston lacking, Simms quips that she’s a “fool” to look for a worthy man “in fashion’s petty realm and clique” (393). Moreover Simms implies the blame for her romantic failure lies with herself, her great delusions and her lesser desirability:
The sanguine maid,
Too often, in her fancy, clasps a shade. How many, like our satirist, depart From their own provinces, to find a heart! (561–64)
Love, Simms explains, demands such qualities as “sweet charm,” “smile superior,” “shapes of rapture,” and “noble thoughts” (574–79),
and Husbands [demand] something more;
Your hook you cast into the sea elate, But, Cape Cod Damsel, what has been your bait? (584–86)
And if her own attractions fail, her verse is worse. In the “ unmann’d lines” of her satire, Simms puns, “Her aim falls short” (448–49): “If your lips lack in sweetness, like your ear, / No wonder that our gallants come not near.” Indeed, verse like hers “so clumsy and so rude, / But seldom on the public dares intrude” (641–44). Hence the lady satirist ranks no better than the New En gland ladies who scrawl doggerel that Simms mocks with ringing alliteration: “Gould squeaks and squeals, Sigourney screams and squalls,” mere “Scribblers inveterate” (652–53) whose “puny passions” and “twattling cant” Rufus Griswold cooks up in “His annual volume” (663–65). 23
Simms further defends the South from the northern lady’s attacks by contrasting the courting habits of girls from the two regions, clearly one of the poem’s parts he believed Tucker might like. Calling himself an experienced bachelor and perhaps recalling his time in New York between his marriages, Simms recounts his impressions “Of ardent damsels in a northern snow” (798) and their “practice” of “kissing” constantly (837), sounding here like the satiric Byron of Don Juan:
They kiss at meeting, kiss at parting kiss All friends, all faces, nothing comes amiss; Kiss before meat and after meat, the grace, Being needless, as no season’s out of place; Familiar this, next follows the embrace; And next, but read the common history, Divorce, and murder, and adultery. (841–47)
If northerners such as these find southerners “the coldest people” (945), it only reveals their blindness to the greater passions and truer morals of southern lovers. Simms explains: “The virgin kiss we hold a sacred boon, / For love alone nor sought, nor given, too soon” (928–29). Southerners, Simms asserts, feel “no bliss” “From lips which all may taste” (943), which adds the insult of looseness to the northern lady’s already impugned attractiveness.
Despite the humor of his flouting northern manners Simms’s satire most gains force from his assaults on the flaws of his fellow southerners, about which he is dead serious. One target is the southern planter. Though “Letters and arts should flourish in his care” (1188), “lei sure” usurps “his strength” (1184), and in “His mental sleep” the planter “reads too little for his mind’s desires” (1235, 1244). He not only fails to patronize the arts, like the great En glish aristocrats, but perhaps what is worse the southern planter “never builds the temple or the square” (1201), living a life of selfish luxury and idleness. Eventually “His fields grow bare his debts grow great” (1258), and as “he seeks for richer lands” he forgets that “wealth is rather in the soul than soil” (1262–65). In 1843 in his essay The Social Principle Simms lodged the same complaint against the “insatiate rage for gain” that motivates transient farmers first to exhaust their land till it is worthless and then to abandon it for new fields in the West. Simms also takes aim at the southern politicians. No doubt still smarting from his defeat in the 1846 election for the state legislature and then from a second blow in falling a single vote shy of the nomination for lieutenant governor, he criticizes the cliquishness of state politics. For example, he charges, “A member of the House” will convince “a Senator to quit / The place, where his ambition longs to sit” (173–76). The result is that “One little circle” has “full control” and “They exchange their places, year by year” (178–79), keeping outsiders like Simms from participating. 24 So, unlike the small targets of the northern lady, these targets of southern planters and politicians “are the themes that satire well might urge” (313). Having mastered the neoclassical manner in his youth, Simms revives the mode when apt as a vehicle to instruct. The neoclassical poet does not share the romantic bard’s “holy craft,” but as moral teacher this role also suits Simms’s aim to use his verse to awaken his audience to matters beyond the material and mundane.
Simms’s comment that “a man of blood” seeking “passion” will favor Byron helps explain his emulation of Byron’s romantic lyrics during his early period ( L 4:443). In fact, several poems from 1827 and 1829 bear the unmistakable stamp of Childe Harold and Hebrew Melodies and confirm the thesis about Byron’s dominating effect on Simms the apprentice poet. Moreover, as James O. Hoge notes, Simms’s “Cain” in The Vision of Cortes (1829) directly parallels Byron’s poem of the same name, and Simms picks lines from Byron’s Parisina as the epigraph to the volume. 25 Simms clearly wants his readers to associate his work with Byron’s. Simms and Byron even share the same portrait artist. Shortly after publishing his imitation of Don Juan Donna Florida Simms had his portrait painted by William Edward West (1788–1857) and wrote with pride on the back of the canvas of his link to Byron through the Kentucky artist: “This portrait was painted in 1844, when I was 38 years old, by William West,” who “painted the most successful portrait of Lord Byron & published a report of his conversations with his Lordship” ( L 2:14). Byron comments on this portrait by West in a postscript to the letter to Thomas Moore (August 27, 1822) reporting the cremation of Shelley’s drowned body. While Byron “did not send” his “bust to the academy of New York,” he did sit, he tells Moore, “for my picture to young West, an American artist, at the request of some members of that Academy to him that he would take my portrait, for the Academy, I believe.” Hoge no doubt is correct that “Byron’s effect on” Simms’s “work was extraordinary.” It was also lifelong. For example, Simms’s last novel published as a book, The Cassique of Kiawah (1859), quotes Byron in its first two pages. 26 Furthermore, in “Heads of the Poets” Byron is one of just seven poets whom Simms praises in a separate section ( P 2:8.1–12).
Two poems from Simms’s early period echo Childe Harold so closely that the relation perhaps goes beyond influence and approaches imitation “Stanzas by the Sea-Shore” and “Apostrophe to Ocean.” As Kibler explains, when Simms died the first poem remained uncollected, though he revised and republished it several times, including in 1852 and 1868 ( SP 334), which thus provides an example of Simms’s returning momentarily to the Byronic mode long after his fortieth birthday. Simms’s first version of “Stanzas by the Sea-Shore” “Lines Written at Sea” (1829) consists of two eight-line stanzas in tetrameter and its rhyme scheme matches that of Byron’s “Stanzas to Augusta” ( ababcdcd ), but Byron’s lyric employs half meter, not tetrameter.

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