Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 13: No 2) >> ''The New Dawn'': A New Simms Work >> Page 25

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Page 25

Reviews/Essays | 1863-08-05
Transcription Simms's subtitle, "The Preludium of a People," suggests that the work
is an encouragement to look to the future. The dream-vision aisling foresees
the birth of a people. It is Simms's own version of his friend Henry
Timrod's "Ethnogenesis," also published in the Charleston Mercury (26
September 1861) and again in the Charleston Daily Courier (31 January
1862). It is reminiscent of Timrod's "The Cotton Boll" (Charleston
Mercury, 3 September 1861). Simms, however, writing in the dark dfays
of the longest seige laid to a civilian population in modem history, tinges
Timrod's buoyant optimism with the spectre of death and' relies for hope on
otherwordly vision. The war was not going well, and there was sickness and
death in his family. His son and namesake was away at war and directly in
harm's way. Simms was struggling to remain positive through this tragic
time, and the aisling was a viable way to do so.
The Italian epigraph that begins the work is by Pietro Metastasio, from
his libretto to the baroque opera II Temistocle (Act II, Scene 1, lines 580,-
588), first performed in Venice and Vienna in the 1730s. Themistocles, the
subject of the opera, was a Greek general who defeated the Persians in a
naval battle after they had invaded, sacked, and burned Athens. Certainly,
Simms must have felt that Charleston, at war as she was with her own
Median invader, needed her own Theraistocles.
Either Simms was working from memory or he had a wretched
typesetter, for the Italian is badly garbled. It should read:

Tal per altrui diletto
le ingannatrica scene
soglion talor d 'aspetto
sollecite cambiar.

Un carcere il piu fosco
Reggia cosi diviene,
cosi verdeggia un bosco,
dove ondeggiava il mar.

Simms's asterisked note to the passage, "Translation—free," is quite
accurate. He uses Metastasio as a base from which to create a new poem.
His interest in Metastasio had been evidenced in other "free" translations
from the poet in Simms's poetic canon. Simms the translator and adaptor of
Italian verse is just another indication of his incredibly wide-ranging interests
and facility in poetry. It is one more new area of the multi-talented artist
that has yet to be explored. This newly discovered verse translation should
be added to the growing bibliography of Simms poems.