Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 2) >> Simms's Least Known Separate Publication: A First Examination >> Page 10

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Page 10

Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription It's always dangerous to read too much into anyone's hastily composed
occasional verse, especially Simms's, but in this case at least, a closer reading
does reveal more than one level of meaning to this "tossed off' ode.
Certainly it was composed in haste for this special occasion; over the course
of the war Simms composed over two dozen poems for this Regiment, and
there are traces of other poems running through this one. Writer's block was
not a problem Simms had with this poem. He knew what he had to say and
he said it, heaping high praise on the Palmetto men who came back from that
war. So one level reveals his political activities and beliefs during this period
Another alludes to his knowledge and opinion of the printing world itself.
Yet another reflects his role and position in the community, in much the
same way that his editing of The Charleston Book does. In his community
Simms was participant, observer, and recorder. And the picture he records
for us is an innocent one, of an age of banners and bands and an entire
community turning out for a welcome-home parade for its heroes.
We know that Simms as a professional writer esteemed his work in
the field of poetry above all others. He believed that through poetry an artist
achieved his highest potential and served the greatest good to mankind. He
believed that the purpose of poetry was to uplift man's heart, to teach him,
and to inspire him to greater moral and spiritual heights. The poet, then, in
Simms's mind, was man's teacher, one who showed him the way, the one who
put the thought into words to be read and digested. It was the poet who
showed him what to think and how. But there is more than a slight irony in
his using such a poetic creation as this to praise generally the newspaper
press of Charleston, South Carolina (especially when one recalls other letters
written during July 1848 wherein Simms excoriates the Courier and the
Mercury for their handling–or rather non-handling–of Taylor's political
But here, in this ode, the poet's lofty aims are shown to be achieved by
the humble man-made printing press–that invention which also serves as the
vehicle for biased and sensational journalism. I suspect that Simms enjoyed
writing this piece–and I also suspect that he was well aware of the irony and
ambiguity of what he said there.