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 105

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 105 THE SIMMS REVIEW

characterizing the bird as "sad" and "brooding." This act of personifica-
tion is an attempt to correlate nature and humanity by virtue of assign-
ing qualities of the latter to the former. Nevertheless, the reason for the
pelican's gloomy demeanor remains enigmatic and thus foils the poet's
interpretation; what this mood connotes and why this is meaningful for
the poet and his fellow man go unexplained. "[P]erch'd on topmost
height of spire," nature still maintains a physical and hermeneutical dis-
tance. Additionally, the bird's wariness is emphasized again in the next
line by his "watch[fulness]," especially of the comparably trivial "sports
of the unconscious tribes below." The latter reference could be to the ter-
restrial animal kingdom below the animal's perch. However, in the con-
text of the human conceit and cumbrousness alluded to in the first line,
"sports" also suggests the follies of man, and "unconscious," his inability
to discern the presence, not to mention the symbolic and spiritual mean-
ing, of the pelican.
The final means by which the environment resists the impositions
of mankind in "Notes from Bartram"—in terms of meaning as well as
physical presence—is through its muteness. More often than not in this
series nature withholds its secrets, which Simms identified in Poetry and
the Practical as the environment's "types of spiritual truths" (46). This
motif of nature remaining unknowable is apparent in "Wood Pelican," for
instance, where the bird is silent. Unlike a "venerable sage" to whom it
is compared, the pelican refuses to share its wisdom. The same image is
repeated in "Cormorants":
Hung above the stream,
From twigs or bending branches, wings outspread,
The brooding Cormorants watch, and as you move,
Drop from their heights into the glassy wave,
And sail away in silence. (Selected Poems 124)
Similar to the boundary that nature maintains between itself and the
observer elsewhere in the Bartram poems, the cormorants are only visible
from afar, "above the stream" and remaining isolated by "their heights."
They, too, are wary as they "watch ... as you move" and intrude into
their habitat. Simms again personifies these animals they are likewise
doleful, "brooding" or meditating on some troublesome secret. Again,
though, in spite of attempts to make the bird's demeanor analogous to
human qualities, the cormorants remain incomprehensible. The reason
behind their ruminations and their silence cannot be deciphered by the