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 12

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription turning point of the Italian sonnet.
The meter of "The Lonely Islet," much more than that of "Ballad,"
never approaches the pentameter line associated with the sonnet form.
Written in tetrameter and trimeter, the lines are headless; that is, the initial
unstressed syllable is missing, giving the poem a rhythm uncommon to most
conventional poetry, which only uses headless lines in order to break the
monotony of the strictures of the typical iambic line.
Since the meter of the poem is built out of tetrameter and trimeter, the
poem naturally falls within not only two but three different traditions: (1) the
ode because of its monolithic subject; (2) the ballad because of its alternating
meters; and (3) the sonnet because of its binary structure. Like Simms's
"Ballad,""The Lonely Islet" expands the possibilities for prosodic hybridity,
and in so doing, successfully conceals the sonnet structure of the final stanza.
As John Keats renegotiates the tradition with his sonnet-embedded odes,
Simms also reconsiders the potential of the sonnet as not only an isolated unit,
but also a key component or building block of forms not traditionally related
to the sonnet.
Simms, in his theory and practice, advocates a new American
prosody, without which no national literature can grow. And while he does
not elevate rhyme above reason, he clearly points out the need for formal
innovations in America poetry. What is so peculiar about Simms is how he
speaks through his form. In the poems considered above, the tie between form
and content, "sound and sense," is rather weak. And as Simms was not an
aesthete, we can only conclude that the peculiar innovations he performs in
these poems are a continuation of the dialogue begun in his lectures, letters,
and reviews.
Considering the wealth of illustrations discussed here, like Kibler, I
am somewhat mystified by Simms's current reputation (Kibler 17). That
room has not yet been made for his work in the poetic canon is the result of
shortsightedness on the part of the academic establishment. Perhaps one day,
scholars and makers of taste will realize what so many students of his work
already know: that Simms unequivocally deserves "the epithet of 'Builder!'














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