Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms's Romantic Vision as Shown in His Critical Writings >> Page 82

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 82

Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 82 THE SIMMS REVIEW

nature spreading about and above us" (Letters 3:275). Only in poetry
could one express one's thoughts and imagination fully and thereby
achieve a higher understanding of the world and consequently of one-
self. He detested poetry that was written only as an elegant pastime and
offered nothing but hackneyed commonplaces. Instead, the poet's task
was to enlighten and educate the world and to provide the "wing" that
would lift consciousness "above the world" (Letters 4:454). But Simms
provides his most eloquent and ringing endorsement of what constitutes a
poet in his essay on Southern literature, where he explains that "The true
poet is a good, as well as a great man. His humanity, as well as his genius
is catholic. The sources of his poetic inspirations well up from the deep-
est fountains of philosophy .... He is a thinker, a seeker, a discoverer, a
creator! ("Letter II" 72).
Early in his life, Simms had aligned himself with the philosophies
of the British Romantics such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth, and
he was to keep this essentially British Romantic view of poetry for the
rest of his career. However, he abhorred sentimentality for its own sake
and never cherished writings that did not impart a deeper message to
enlighten the reader. His vehement call for plain, bold, outspoken, vital,
and unembellished verse shows his taste for a more realistic and down-
to-earth poetic style ("A Letter" 378). Still, for Simms, realistic honesty
in description and sentiment was ideally coupled with a Romantic long-
ing for history, tradition, rootedness, and a fervent appreciation of the
beauties of nature. The ideal in poetry thus helped to compensate for
the dangers of the real; lofty sentiments kept the meaner part of a per-
son in check (Poetry 97). Unfortunately, Simms found American poets
especially wanting in profundity and elevated thoughts: "Our American
poets are too easily satisfied with a little play of fancy as the substitute
of Thought .... To think & feel in poetry is the true secret of the voice in
poetry" (Letters 4:616).
According to Simms, the struggles of American writers to emu-
late the literary achievements of other nations was a first step in the
erection of a genius loci, "the only genius that makes place holy, and
preserves it from degradation and decay" (Views, 1st ser. 100). Although
he saw that the Southern genius loci was still in its infancy, he hoped in
1848 for a healthy proliferation of its powers and its future consolidation
among the world's literatures. In line with Coleridge and Wordsworth, he
felt that the best poetry for him portrayed the individual self that gained