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 101

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 101 THE SIMMS REVIEW


attentiveness to the environment, and his description of the tree's physi-
cal characteristics translates these features into values relevant to the
human condition:

Lo! Where the Cypress soars in majesty;
Gigantic column from an arched base,
Springing above the swamp—with great flat dome,
Fringed with the Druid moss. It stands aloft,
Meet emblem of the virtues in Old Age,
Which wave paternal arms o'er feebler tribes,
And, bearded with the grey of eld, yet mocks
Decay in humbler forms. The tooth of Time,
Gnaws unavailing on its mighty trunk,
While the storm beats as vainly on its brow.
(Selected Poems 117)

In keeping with the notion that spiritual teachings are latent in the natu-
ral world, Simms sanctifies the cypress in the poem's opening lines. For
example, the exclamatory phrase in the poem's first sentence emphasizes
the speaker's awe at the tree's grandeur. Likewise, the cypress is repre-
sented in architectural terms that liken the tree to a cathedral. Similar to a
spire, the cypress "soars in majesty." Its trunk resembles a church edifice,
appearing both stately as a column and as weightless as a flying buttress
"[s]pringing above the swamp." Simms even compares the tree's majes-
tic crown—somewhat paradoxically—to a "great flat dome."
Simms shifts to personifying the cypress, using the poem's rever-
ential tone to pay homage to the tree as the patriarch of the swamp. The
cypress is a "[m]eet emblem of the virtues in Old Age," an epitome of
dignity. Its "paternal" branches hover protectively "o'er feebler tribes" of
shorter and less robust trees. Albeit older, age is not a sign of vulnerabil-
ity. Instead, the cypress's lichen "beard ... with the grey of eld" suggests
the tree's gravitas and maturity. This stature enables it to withstand the
assault of parasites and disease as the cypress "mocks / Decay in hum-
bler forms" as well as to defend against the long-term threat of time and
weather that "gnaw [...] unavailingly on its mighty trunk." Though here
associated with a tree, the strength, duty, and sagacity of the cypress are
universal and timeless virtues, and they contribute to a dignified fortitude
that transcends more superficial forms of prestige, including those related
to materialism.