Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 2) >> ''Poe's Poetry'': A New Simms Essay >> Page 20

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Reviews/Essays | [1845-10-11]
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"POE'S POETRY": A NEW SIMMS ESSAY

James Kibler


Simms's little-known essay on Poe as poet and critic, which here follows,
appeared in the Charleston Southern Patriot of 10 November 1845. It is yet
another of Simms's many significant treatments of Poe. The essay is noteworthy
for several reasons. Firstly, it accurately identifies Poe's great gifts as a critic
critical attributes that Simms himself shared to the fullest. Secondly, it notes
Poe's "moods," that is, his mood-swings, which are here said to arise from
"physical" causes. If, as many now believe, Poe was a severe diabetic, Simms
may have been reading his subject very perceptively, observations that probably
grew out of personal acquaintance. Thirdly, Simms was directly on target in
understanding Poe's poetic credo: "He seems to dislike the merely practical, and
to shrink from the concrete." His poetry is imaginative, "metaphysical," and
"intensely spiritual." In light of critic Richard Wilbur's excellent recent
interpretation of Poe's cosmology as it applies to Poe's verse, Simms again
appears to have been impressively accurate. It has taken over a century for
literary critics to catch up to him in this respect. Fourthly, the essay shows that
Simms, like Poe himself, disliked the "cult of the didactic," as Poe phrased it.
Simms often criticized overt moral teaching. Simms's anti-didacticism was an
essential part of his poetic creed, just as it was of Poe's. Both writers went so fa
as to show didacticism to be destructive of all great an. Therefore, in order to
satisfy an audience in the very land of didacticism itself, Simms says that Poe
should have just read his Boston audience a poem of "moral or patriotic common
places in rhyming heroics." Above all, in Boston, "you must not be mystical" or
tax your audience with thought. On the Northern habit of "practicality" and haste:
"Your song must be such as they can read running, and comprehend while
munching pea-nuts." The didactic verse of Emerson or Longfellow is the rule in
the land of the neat moral tag. at poem's end, the "penny-whistle elevation" of
summarizing couplets to give readers easy guides to live their lives by-- a
secularized Puritan impulse to teach morals through literature, as Simms would
say elsewhere.
Fifthly, in Simms's defense of Poe against the rude mass exits during his
reading and the vicious attacks in the Boston press, Simms shows his deep
understanding of the narrow parochialism of New England press and literati, and
of their animosity toward Poe. Simms himself enshrines no sacred cows among
the Boston Brahmin set. He describes Poe's own criticism of certain New
England authors like Longfellow with a humorous animal metaphor of his own
making: "The swans of New-England, under his delineation, had been described
as mere geese, and those too of none of the whitest." Simms uses the correct
words in describing the Boston establishment's reaction to Poe: "revenge" and
"retribution." In Simms's phrase, "the little wittlings of the press, in the old
purlieus of the Puritan, flourish the critical tomahawk about the head of their