Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Eagle Unhooded: Poetic Technique in Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 29

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 29 THE SIMMS REVIEW


with war." He predicts the same for an America built on the Benjamin
Franklin utilitarian plan. He writes that she is following the "identical
career" of Rome, "sworn only to material conquests" (10). He asks, is the
nation only to be "nothing but a convulsive progress of storm and blood
and fire?" He alliterates his answer: Yes. "Rage, riot, and ruin" (11).
He follows with a key image that American pride is "more
delighted with the extent than the beauty of our dominion" (15). He rec-
ognizes that if the obsession with abstract and global largeness continues
at the expense of the local and particular, it will result in national decay
and collapse. The home desires that would act locally in protecting and
nurturing the smallest dooryard things would honor the Genius loci,
the spirit of the place; and this is what Simms felt the poet did best. In
the final pages of Poetry and the Practical, he circles back to the idea.
Praising the poet, he writes, "it is not the least of his virtues, that he has
always been found faithful to the Genius Loci" (90). The abstractionist
globalist with appetite bent on conquest is the poet's antithesis. The poet
is thus constructive; the materialist destructive.
Simms laments that America does not allow proper veneration
of place and the poet who does so. He writes, the poet would teach us
to "strengthen our bulwarks with Beauty and to sharpen our spears with
Love" (17). Instead of waging war, then, a people would be defended by
the home "arts of peace." The good teacher would counsel that "the arts
which soothe are not less potent than those which subdue" (17).
Such a poet-teacher should "occasionally arise the more neces-
sary as no one calls for him." This poet-teacher "shall refuse to sink his
own moral to the level of merely popular desires." He shall "counsel us
that the conquests of the mechanical arts, and of arms ... are not wholly
the secret of national greatness" and "never the secret of human security
and happiness" (17).
America doesn't lack teachers, but they are "teachers of the
utilitarian," that is, scientists, chemists, economists "Material teach-
ers." Simms writes that "the danger is that such teachers will confirm the
[already] too popular lesson which finds the useful only in the material"
(21). He explains, "it is this wretched schooling ... which has done so
much towards making the national character so hardfavoured, so grasp-
ing, so hostile to the refining influences of society and art, and so ready to
regard as frivolous all pursuits which promise neither wealth not aggran-
disement" (21-22). It is also this bad schooling which ultimately leads to
war-mongering. For true homeland security, Simms advises,