Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Eagle Unhooded: Poetic Technique in Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 28

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 28 THE SIMMS REVIEW

the inscription might run: "We ate, drank, and kept our gigs " (82). And
he says that materialists have tightly closed minds on the subject. The
first simile of the work compares their minds to the fixed, rusted weather
vane upon a house top and follows it with a visual image of graphic con-
trast. He asks, "How should you hearken the voice of the Singing Bird
... while you stoop, eagerly listening for the roll of those mighty engines
which are to bring you the treasures of Ophir from the shores of the
Pacific!" (6). By 1851, the California gold rush had become the symbol
of getting rich quick and another national obsession that reveals a value
system that is deeply flawed.
Next, he images materialism as a great maw, a gigantic greedy
stomach "indulging but a single great appetite" that "swallows up the
rest" (8)—a devouring monomania that eats up the world and ends in
the devourer consuming itself. Such must be the only logical end of a
consumer society. At this point, Simms warns against the destructiveness
of a nation's urge to empire. He declares that England's empire has "con-
firmed the original sternness of its temper; its iron will, its inexorable
pride, its hardfavored and unbending earnestness" (7). And America has
only heightened those features of the parent "which have rendered it
most repulsive" that is, an "unscrupulous tenacity of purpose" and "the
grasping ferocity of our desires," the "passion for conquest" (7). He sees
that America is now given over to a "march to empire" which modesty
had forbidden in the Republic's youth. He declares that both England and
America have come to exhibit "the merit of mere material acquisition,"
and have "material conquest" as their "master passion," an obsession that
confuses "possessions with powers, accumulations with developments;
[and] enjoyments with endowments" (8). Simms concludes that "the race
is simply brutal" until spiritualized by the crowning gift of imaginative
art, and he does not see this happening (11).
Instead, the insatiable maw's hunger for a neighbor's gain
becomes the mother of war. As he does in other works, Simms here
predicts the invasion of the South by a nationalistic adversary envious
of the South's great wealth and bent on empire. Simms completes his
maw image with "the arts, the liberal exercises that delight in peace, as
"the only corrections of this insane appetite" (9). One conjectures that
otherwise, such a stomach might one day even attempt to ingest a Ford
Maverick.
Simms says that in England, the maw's appetite has borne tyr-
anny that "ground its own people with taxation and savaged other nations