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 98

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 98 THE SIMMS REVIEW

ing with the poet. In effect, nature offers nothing to interpret. If frustrated,
Simms was not unaccustomed to this rejection, for his relationship to the
environment was equally practical and theoretical. The poet was an avid
outdoorsman, an ambitious and creative planter, and an attentive tourist
who traveled extensively through the frontier regions of the American
South. His anecdotes about hunting in ledgers such as "Personal and
Literary Memorials," his essays on land use and agricultural science like
"The Good Farmer" (1841), and his accounts of rural travel in articles
such as "Notes of a Small Tourist" (1831) demonstrate a material aware-
ness of the Southern landscape and its botany and wildlife.2 Simms's
experience as a sportsman, farmer, and traveler taught him that the envi-
ronment does not always acquiesce to human desire or accommodate
human attempts to manipulate it. Similar to the susceptibility of a hunter
to failure, a farmer to drought, and a traveler to delay, nature can foil the
efforts of poets to figuratively impose themselves upon on the environ-
ment, via language and its constitutive properties or by interpretation and
its intrinsic power of determination.
The "Notes from Bartram" series of poems reflects this equivocal
relationship between nature and poet. The ability of the latter to translate
the spiritual values of the environment is evident in a few of these poems,
but a much more frequent motif is a hermeneutical inconclusiveness as
a consequence of nature's power to thwart Romantic interpretations of
itself. But this evidence of the environment's ability to successfully con-
test its objectification and interpretation should not be construed as a sign
of the limitations of Simms's Romanticism. Instead, the recurrent impo-
tency of the poet-as-translator in "Notes from Bartram" marks Simms's
acknowledgement of what eco-critics Rebecca Raglon and Maria
Scholtmeijer call the "strong narratives" of the environment nature's
ability to resist and elude the "human meaning-making exercises" associ-
ated with acts of representation and interpretation (252, 260). Rather than
suggesting a failure of imagination, the frustrated meanings of the poems
in "Notes from Bartram" reflect Simms's recognition and representation
of the ultimate limit of nature's ineffable sublimity—its potency reified
as a stubborn rebuff of articulation.
"Notes from Bartram" is composed of short poems in blank verse
based on William Bartram's descriptions of animals, plants, locations, and
events in his Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East
and West Florida (1791). Simms's interest in the environment apparently