Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> ''A Forest of Sharp Bayonets at Your Breast'': The Nature of Resistance in ''Notes from Bartram'' >> Page 97

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription "A Forest of Sharp Bayonets at Your
Breast": The Nature of Resistance
in "Notes from Bartram"

John D. Miller

Poetry and the Practical, William Gilmore Simms's 1854 lec-
tures on the role of the poet in modern life, is simultaneously as suc-
cinct and as comprehensive a philosophy of Romantic verse to appear
on either side of the antebellum Atlantic. Like his contemporary Ralph
Waldo Emerson, Simms celebrates the poet as a spiritual minister for the
modern era. "[T]he Poet is the High Priest of Nature, and at the altar of
Human sensibilities," Simms announces in the series' third lecture (89).
Like his predecessor William Wordsworth, Simms had faith in the effi-
cacy of nature to revive a human soul calloused by a utilitarian age.i The
poet could ameliorate the spiritually corrosive qualities of capitalism and
industrialism thanks to his or her ability to share with the public the "new
revelations of truth" discovered within nature (88). A poet's "ordinary
tasks," says Simms, are "commending to our regards the delicate, the
sweet and pure susceptibilities, of heart and soul, which our grovelling
cares are perpetually crowding out from sight" (89).
In contrast to Poetry and the Practical's confident optimism in
the spiritual efficacy of Romanticism, Simms's poetry acknowledges
that in fact there was a much more tenuous relationship between nature
and the poetic imagination. David Newton, for instance, has highlighted
a tension in parts of Simms's oeuvre where the speakers of some poems
struggle to define and share nature's "revelations of truth." Newton
explains that for Simms, "poetry is a translative process as language
negotiates the movement from the silent intimations of the sublime,
through the sounds of nature, and finally into the words of the poet"
(33). A poem like "The Streamlet" (1829), for example, "recognizes that
there are differences between human language and the living language of
the natural world" (33). Assuming the role of "translator" meant he was
responsible for reconciling the differences between the environment's
truths and values and mankind's ability to comprehend these (33).
In addition to moments needing translation, there are also
instances in Simms's work where nature refuses to even share its mean-