Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Eagle Unhooded: Poetic Technique in Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 30

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 30 THE SIMMS REVIEW

[W]e must put down as teachers, that class of men, mis-
named utilitarian, who test the value of all pursuits only
by the money profits ... when money is made to consti-
tute the only, or the leading distinction, between man
and man, the barriers of safety are soon overpassed, and
laws are shown to be simple words upon fragile parch-
ment, which hands may rend and fire consume. (50-51;
emphasis in original.)
In illustrating the common view of usefulness, Simms names
the tobacconist—an occupation considered more practical than the poet.
He writes that the world would favor, even honor, "him who feeds the
public nose" over him who would nourish the Public Soul (17). Such a
utilitarian value system would lead to a nation being ranked by the size
of its empire, the length of its railroads and electric wires, and the size
of its cities. Show these things, Simms declares, and you still "have done
little, in all this, to meet the wants of the true life in man" (24). The latter
is the role of the poet.
Simms contrasts the poet who celebrates life and beauty in a run-
ning stream to the utilitarian who would look at it and "see in rapids, only
an admirable water power, by which to turn a mill" (30). Of the dam and
mill builder, Simms says: he "degrades the object in order to use it" (30).
The poet honors the object for itself. Simms's description of the action
of the materialist is a perfect illustration of poet Wendell Berry's state-
ment that "use without affection is abuse" (33). The materialist degrades,
reduces, uses without affection, and thus abuses. The poet honors and
celebrates. The materialist's way is to commodify objects. The poet's
duty is to see the significance inherent in them and let them be.
Simms writes that our best teachers of the true worth of things
are the poets. Conversely, the "objects of Divine Wisdom are not to be
determined by the estimates of the grain and cotton market" (34). Wall
Street is not a gauge of the higher values and is, in fact, usually destruc-
tive of them. As a planter, Simms's philosophy was by its very nature
"green." His agricultural society was not a mill building, river harnessing
way of life. Like the European gentry who lived on the land, he stood
in opposition to an industrial consumerism that would violate nature. In
simple terms, what he stood for, he stood on.
Simms declares that all things of creation have a right to exist
"since we are not to limit the blessings of existence" to humans only (34).