Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Philosophical Aesthetics and Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 71

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 71 THE SIMMS REVIEW

Thus it is the effect of poetry to produce a transformation within us that is
truly renovating, so that "in soothing the wearied faculties, we strengthen
them; and in cheering the desponding mood, we give it heart; and in
warming the affections, we elevate the virtues; and in appealing to the
soul, we furnish the impulse to the first appreciation of Immortality!"
In his emphasis on personal self-realization, Simms sounds like
Kant. However, in his emphasis on the political import of exercising
aesthetic sensibility, Simms sounds even more like Schiller. The negative
consequence of neglecting aesthetic experience is, as Simms rightly notes,
that we will concentrate exclusively on material acquisition and political
empire, and eventually go the way of all the empires that have preceded
us. This is a persistent theme throughout Simms's lectures. Untaught
by the broader perspectives made available to us through literature, we
seem bent on attaining greatness by expanding our political boundaries.
Simms rebukes this enterprise, and proposes that a spiritual enlargement
be put in place of mere territorial expansion. Since the sensualist side of
human nature has created a lopsidedness in American culture, the correc-
tion must be to instigate the sort of spiritual expansion that is commonly
associated with poetry, as Simms explains in a key passage:
Living in a region of pure thought, heedless of the
inferior toils which so distract the senses, pervert the
soul, and confound the judgment; with an eye forever
looking out from self, and unblended by its narrow req-
uisitions,—[the great poets] could range wide over all
the fields of the ideal—all the provinces of speculative
thought and, by an instinctive regard to the inevitable
in nature, and through the well studied analogies of past
history, shape out the probable from the conjectural,
the absolute, from the casual and capricious. Continual
flights into the regions of the abstract, a life spent in
conjecture upon the latent in nature and the soul, a
sleepless search upon a tireless wing, forever employed
in seeking some mount of vision whose scope can
embrace the world this life, thus employed these
bold faculties of Imagination thus exercised which
constitute the peculiar endowment of him who struggles
after the ideal—must necessarily reveal to him thou-