Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 13: No 2) >> ''The New Dawn'': A New Simms Work >> Page 24

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Page 24

Reviews/Essays | 1863-08-05


This previously unrecorded piece was written from a city under
bombardment. Set in Charleston, it was published in the Charleston
Mercury, 5 August 1863. Simms may have been staying at the home of his
daughter, Anna Augusta, at 13 Society Street (now renumbered as 51
Society). See The Simms Review, 3 (Winter 1995), 5-8.
Although cast in prose, "The New Dawn" is not exactly an essay. It
may be described as a kind of prose tone poem, an innovative one-of-a-kind
work whose form Simms seems to have invented specially for this particular
piece. Perhaps "The New Dawn" best fits the category of the Celtic aisling,
or dream vision. The aisling arises out of sleep or trance to speak prophecy
in the inspired manner of the Celtic bard. The work is carried by a flow of
visionary images in the fashion of a stream of consciousness narrative. The
jumbling of these images is reminiscent of the free associative form of that
In section II, Simms refers to the Gallic (Gaelic) warriors sweeping
down in triumph upon the Romans. Simms identified with his Celtic
ancestors and understood their proficiency in battle. Simms here merges the
role of the Celtic warrior with the Celtic bard whose inspired thought
(vision) and imagination make a conquest of its own in encouraging the
people of a war-torn land to put the shoulder to the wheel and persevere.
The dawn setting as the light breaks over the rooftops and chimneys of
Charleston, with the neighbour's single candle lighting the deathwatch of a
loved one, gives the prose-poem an eerie, ghostly feeling and makes the tone
of the work memorable. It is an unusual production.
In describing the poet's bardic role, Simms refers to his favourite "eye
and wing" image to describe the poet's inspired way. In sections I, II, and
IV, he adds to our understanding of the concept that led to the choice of his
eye and wing motto, "Video Volans. " The images of the eye of insight
coupled with the wing of action, the eagle eye of prescient vision coupled
with the eagle wing of the soaring imagination describe perfectly the elevated
role of the Celtic bard. For Simms, as for his Gaelic forebears, the bard had
a central spiritual role in preserving a people.