Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> ''Dazzling Outlawries of the Imagination'': William Gilmore Simms and the ''Americanism'' of the Sonnet >> Page 10

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 10

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription As still, with lance in rest, she seeks the thick array;
Beside him, as he flies
From foe to foe, she plies
The eager steel, and shares the glory of the fray ! (Poems II, 183).

Rather than conforming to the expected meter, Simms writes his poem in
pentameter, trimeter and hexameter (the last two meters are used exclusively
in the last six lines of the stanza).
As concerns the rhyme of the poem, only the first eight lines of the
stanza approach the rhyme scheme found in most ballads: abab ccicd. It
should be noted, however, that Simms may not be referring to the ballad
stanza at all, considering the fact that this particular rhyme scheme is used in
the quatrain of the English sonnet as well. The last six lines of the stanza,
which have nothing in common with the ballad rhymes, follow the rhyme eef
ggf. Because of this division or shift in rhyme scheme after the eighth line, the
poem takes on the traditional binary blueprint of the Italian sonnet, the
components of which are the octave (11. 1-8) and the sestet (11. 9-14).
As I mentioned earlier, Simms used three different meters in the
poem. The first eight lines (or the octave) are written in iambic pentameter,
while the last six lines (the sestet) use a combination of trimeter (ll. 9-10,
12-13) and hexameter (ll. 11, 14). Simms, however, does not follow this
meter rigidly as we see in line 11 of the last stanza.

/ x x x / x / x/
Glides from / his slee / ping lips / her soul / to bless! --

After reading the first stanza (or sonnet), we would expect this line to be
written in hexameter, but Simms does not allow for such rigidity to prevail in
his poetic practice.
"Ballad," it would seem, is either a kind of hybrid form, or simply an
intentionally misnamed sonnet sequence; but considering the use of trimeter
(one of the traditional meters found in balladry), the former is a more likely
scenario. Either way, Simms complicates the tradition by cros sing two very
different forms.
Although Simms's "Ballad" is a significant contribution to the canon
of revisionist poetry, a more complicated and perhaps more ambitious poem is
his "The Lonely Islet" (1845, 1853, Selected Poems 133-134). As the poem
stands as a whole, it fits well within the lyric tradition, and a case could
certainly be made for its inclusion in the ode tradition as well; but when
viewed stanza by stanza, we find that something more intricate than any one
tradition is at work.
While we cannot consider the first stanza of the poem to be at all
related to the sonnet tradition, as it contains fifteen lines, we can certainly see