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 103

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 103THE SIMMS REVIEW

an appropriate description here, for in both cases nature is pressed into
service by Simms's language and acts of interpretation. Albeit for the
benefit of mankind, both "The Cypress" and "The Snow Drop" interpret
and assign value to nature by its figurative utility to mankind.
The bonds that Simms customarily attempts to trace between man
and nature are far more likely to be disrupted in "Notes from Bartram."
Images of violence and resistance symbolize the environment's power to
impede Simms's translation of it. Consequently, in contrast to nature's
providing role models for emulation or even ministering to man's spiri-
tual needs, many of the poems in this series represent nature as mute,
aggressively returning the gaze of the naturalist and poet, or fiercely
protecting its "universal truths" from human eyes and interpretation.
Of course, Simms was never a pastoral writer, so it is not uncommon to
find ambivalent representations of the environment in his work that defy
conventional Romantic aspirations of a close bond between man and
nature.4 However, the Bartram poems emphasize how nature can elude
Simms's ability to analyze and interpret the symbolic lessons that nature
possesses, frustrating his "ministry to the soul of man" (Poetry and the
Practical 31).
Three motifs in particular within "Notes from Bartram" express
nature's antagonism toward the poet: representations of nature as violent;
as itself watchful and unwilling to be objectified by an authorial gaze;
and as secretive, reluctant to reveal any symbolic, spiritual meaning.
"Palmetto Royal" is typical of this first pattern of characterization. In
Simms's description of this picturesque tree, it is assertively defend-
ing itself from not only its enemies in the natural world, but also from
humans and their intrusion:
Crested with silvery pyramid of flowers,
Fenced in by thousand swords of glittering green,
A forest of sharp bayonets at your breast.
(Selected Poems 123)
On one hand, Simms's verse vividly evokes the image of the palmetto;
his "word picture" emphasizes the striking aspects of the plant, especially
its magnificent flowers and the verdure and shape of the surrounding
fronds. But like "The Snow Drop," the flowering parts of the tree (i.e.,
its reproductive organs) are protected by martial guardians. The brilliant
fronds are a "thousand swords" drawn and prepared for action, and they
assert themselves like a "forest of sharp bayonets at your breast."