Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Significance of Simms's First Long Poem >> Page 16

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 16 THE SIMMS REVIEW

Simms's use of the heroic couplet seems chiefly indebted to
Dryden and Pope, and the versification generally suggests how care-
fully he must have read the latter author. The tendency toward an
unusually heavy end-stopped line, with frequent caesuras near mid-line,
particularly suggests Pope's influence. From this standpoint we might
assume that his "Essay on Man" was especially well known to Simms.
Other poets that he would seem to have been reading include Edward
Young (particularly his "Night Thoughts"), William Cowper, and James
Thomson. Less obvious, but still clearly present, are specific influences
from Thomas Warton ("The Pleasures of Melancholy"), Joseph Warton
("The Enthusiast"), Oliver Goldsmith ("The Deserted Village" and "The
Traveller"), Thomas Campbell ("The Pleasures of Hope"), William
Collins ("Ode on Thomson"), and Samuel Rogers ("The Pleasures of
Memory").
Another obvious influence is Thomas Gray, especially his "Elegy
Written in a Country Church-yard." In his maturity, however, Simms was
to call Gray's poem "overlauded." In Chapter 36 of Woodcraft Simms
gives the following description of the hideout of the outlaws deep in the
swamps of the Edisto:
The bank upon which the tent stood was crowned with
aged oaks, that spread themselves out like great green
canopies, covering all within their reach, their white
beards trailing to the earth, or sweeping in the wind, like
those of the Druid Bards, howling their songs of hate and
death in the ears of the tyrant Edward, as described in the
much undervalued ode of Gray—a production very far
superior, in all poetic respects, to the overlauded elegy
of the same writer. Our live oaks are certainly patriar-
chal presences when we find them of an age beyond the
memory of man. (239)
The Gray poem which Simms so much prefers to the "Elegy" is the
Pindaric ode "The Bard," and with its wild setting and savage account
of the tyrant Edward the First, it is easy to see the attraction it must
have held for Simms, son of an Irish immigrant and author of the
Revolutionary novels. It is at once an indictment of English tyranny and
a celebration of the role of the master poet, the vatic, Celtic Bard, who
prophesies the ruin of Edward and his line, and foresees the poetic tri-
umphs of inspired poets. Although there may be echoes of "The Bard" in