Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Unpublished Rhymes >> Page 46

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Page 46

Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 46 THE SIMMS REVIEW

And away he darts
But Turner and Reeser soon end the joke.
Whenever you play possum, my dear,
See that no dogs or sticks are near!
This is a good example of Simms's longer rhymes, of which there are
many in the collection. What one notices in this rhyme are the vibrant
details: the hunt takes place at night; dogs are used to track the possum
that is found by shining lights in its eyes; one of the hunters climbs a tree
to shake the possum down; and, as expected, the creature, once trapped,
lives up to expectations and "plays possum" or pretends to be dead. The
rhyme is a repository of knowledge and memory about an important cul-
tural tradition in the South, one that the rhyme not only accurately reports
but playfully brings to life.
While not exhaustive, these examples provide a glimpse of the
implications and themes raised by this unpublished collection of rhymes,
not just for Simms scholars but for a host of issues in nineteenth century
American literary history. In its range, ambition, and achievement, it is an
extraordinary collection, one that deserves an audience as well as closer
critical study. An accurate transcription of all of the rhymes in the collec-
tion is the necessary first step. Once this is completed, we can begin the
process of cataloging the rhymes, classifying them, and, learning more
about their composition. Although they are childhood rhymes, they have
much to tell us about Simms and the South that he called home. And
for Simms scholars, they also remind us how much more remains to be
discovered and explored before we can claim to know the mind of the
artist behind them.

1. The research presented here was made possible through the generous support
of the William Gilmore Simms Visiting Research Professorship at the South
Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. As a recent recipient
of the professorship which has provided assistance for many Simms scholars
over the years I want to acknowledge Mary C. Simms Oliphant, whose corn-
mitment to future scholarship on Simms helped to create the original endow-
ment. I would also like to thank Mrs. Alester G. Furman, III and the many other
donors who have supported the endowment over the years. Finally, I would like