Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore

William Lamar Cawthon, Jr.

Upon leaving his ancestral South Carolina for a strange North he had never
seen, in the darkest hour of his young manhood, having lost wife, father, the
grandmother who had raised him, his monetary inheritance, and a bitter, emotion
draining battle with the Nullifiers, thinking that he might never return home, and
feeling unappreciated by the society he had left behind, Simms, amidst all of these
depressing circumstances, expressed in poetry at sea an ardent love for his native
land. Listen to his words:

Well, though thou has denied me loud, with words of scorn or strife,
And sent me forth in exile far, I love thee more than life:
Thy hills, thy vales, thy streams, thy woods, thy skies of softest blue;
And, though thy sons have done me wrong, I feel I love them too.

Thou has had me in thine arms, thou has borne me on thy knee,
Yet hast thou been, my mother land, but a step-dame unto me;

Yet did I, with thy favorite sons, heir all that gives thee name;
My fathers bravely struck, with thine, for liberty and fame;
Their blood is on thy battle-fields; their toils have served to raise
Those glorious monuments on which their son no more shall gaze;

I see thee on my vision rise, 0 clime forever dear!2

With sentiments such as these, it is no surprise that Simms returned to the
South and devoted his life to the advancement of the Southern people. These words
express two of the most common ways in which ethnic and national groups evoke
their identity: through recalling heroic ages, and through landscape.3 From his
earliest literary endeavors, Simms praised heroic action and his native landscape. At
age twelve, he versified "sundry of the most spirited events" of the War of 1812,

1 This essay is an expanded version of a paper delivered at the Simms in Charleston Conference,
January 2000.
2 William Gilmore Simms, The Exile. — A Ballad," in James Everett Kibler, Jr., Selected Poems
of William Gilmore Simms (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1990), pp. 57-58.
3 See "Legends and Landscapes," Chapter 8 of Anthony D. Smith's The Ethnic Origins of Nations
(Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1988). First published in Oxford, UK in 1986.