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

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 17

Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 17 THE SIMMS REVIEW

Monody, the influence of the "Elegy" is more obvious. It may be worth
mentioning, however, that Simms's deliberate obscurity may well owe
something to the cultivated obscurity of Gray's Pindaric odes generally,
as well as perhaps to those of Collins.
There is no question that Simms's technique is highly conscious.
The young craftsman is fascinated by the technical possibilities of the
couplet form; and the poem is full of small variations which are clearly
deliberate, some successful, others not. For example, at one point he sud-
denly changes from end-stopped to a series of run-on lines, the effect of
which is a flabbiness of texture. Interestingly, this also happened to Keats
when he experimented in the same way in the couplets of "Endymion."
Simms's pervasive use of personification clearly shows his
debt to a whole group of late eighteenth-century poets, but one specific
instance might be mentioned. The poem's central early image of the
personified oak likely derives from Cowper's widely-known and much-
admired fragment, "Yardley Oak" (1803). The central theme of memory,
or remembrance, and certain features of the poem's style strongly recall
Rogers's "Pleasures of Memory." The same theme plays a very large part
in Campbell's "The Pleasures of Hope," a work which also has much to
say about freedom and English oppression. It may not be too much to say
that Campbell's poem is the most important single influence on Monody;
and it is pleasing to see that the erudite reviewer in the Courier spotted
this fact when he commented that the "descriptive flight" which opens
Monody "reminds us of the opening of Campbell's Pleasure of Hope; not"
(he adds) "that we mean to suggest the charge of slavish imitation."
It might be noted that the Revolutionary figure, Thaddeus
Kosciusko, is one of the heroes in Campbell's poem (Canto I, lines 349-
399), and Campbell's opposition to English imperialism was presumably
one of the attractions of this poem for Simms. Incidentally, Kosciusko's
connections with the American Revolution were well known to Simms.
He contributed a sketch of the hero to Rufus Griswold's compilation,
Washington and the Generals of the Revolution (1847). Simms was par-
ticularly interested in finding sources in old world poetry which would
be pertinent to his own anti-imperialist American themes.
Byron's "Ode on Venice," with its emphasis on America as the
country of freedom (see lines 155-160), would also seem to be an influ-
ence. The poem was published in 1819, so Simms was obviously quite
up-to-date in his reading. It is well to remember that Simms's close friend