Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Eagle Unhooded: Poetic Technique in Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 32

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 32 THE SIMMS REVIEW

Simms is specific as to which bird the poet resembles. He writes:
"The eagle, which is the emblem of the imaginative faculty, is only beau-
tiful in his power, in the strength, the majesty, the rapidity and audacity
of wing and eye!" (56). The eagle can soar high, but Simms extends the
metaphor to reveal how the true poet works. He does not do like the owl,
who steals upon his prey. He is not like the panther, who creeps toward
his prey. Instead, he is the eagle who "dashes upon it with direct aim
... while every feather vibrates as it goes through air" (56). The poet in
dashing upon his object has the capacity of Seer that passes into Vates or
prophet. He affixes truth in startling and lightning swift revelation. "He
predicts, warns, threatens, as well as teaches and endows" (54). He has
the "wizard power to take off the seals from the secret" of things (53).
He "combines, constructs, conceives, invents" and as "Maker, Seer, and
Builder" he emulates "the works of the Deity!" (52).
Simms elaborates his figure still further: the poet's opposites in
the animal realm are those insect creatures who are "more thrifty," striv-
ing "in the cause of self' (57). Ants and bees like materialists, strive "to
be sure of food always." Like the butterfly, the materialist is eager "to
sport gay garments in the summer sunshine" (68). Ox and buffalo are like
the utilitarians who focus on the blind appetites and to whom "reality is
only to be found in grass" and the "snug safe pastures, [that] are quite
as grateful to the ox instincts as to ours" (65). Neither is the poet like
the fox, whose nature is akin to the cunning sharper, the denizen of Wall
Street, or any other such city huckster. Simms declares that "Men are not
exactly buffaloes, though sometimes beasts" (65).
Other of Simms's metaphors compare the poet to Moses and
Cassandra. The similarity to Moses is that though the poet can guide his
people out of bondage to things and the idolatry of the literal, he will
not be allowed to see the fruits of it in a better world. By that, Simms
means that the poet is always in advance. As he says, his current truth
is the luminous shadow of the approaching truth. His revelations only
get accepted when he's gone. "The despised poet of one generation," he
declares, "is acknowledged to be the benefactor of another" (57). The
poet thus intuits the occult truth before it "becomes apparent to the sight"
(61). Then the poet is often like Cassandra, the prophetess of Troy, who
could save the city from ruin, but is not listened to. The poet has the
understanding to lead mankind from the materialism that would destroy
him, but is ignored. Ruin is the inevitable result.