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 106

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 106 THE SIMMS REVIEW

narrator, who fails to attribute translatable meaning to the birds' behavior
before they "sail away in silence," finally frustrating any revelation.
Do these motifs of hostility, watchfulness, and silence indicate
limitations to Simms's Romanticism? The poet's commitment to it over
the course of his long life and career suggests not. In fact, one of the
few consistent aspects of Simms's aesthetic and intellectual vision is
the value he placed on nature and his faith in poetry's importance. The
sheer quantity of poems that he wrote with nature as a topic, for instance,
underscores the strength and consistency of his Romantic convictions.
Poetry and the Practical itself is merely a concise articulation of beliefs
that he had been espousing for most of his mature career, explains Eric
Carl Link (53). Moreover, Simms made many of the same points as per-
suasively and as passionately in his 1870 address Sense of the Beautiful,
less than two months before his death.
The apparent facility with which Simms wrote his impressive
oeuvre and the confidence with which he explained himself should not
lead anyone to underestimate his careful eye and the humility with which
he approached the environment and his task. In other words, Simms's
fecundity should not imply that he viewed nature as a static, homog-
enous, monolithic entity. The "Notes from Bartram" series illustrates
his recognition that nature, not the poet, maintains the ultimate power.
As Raglon and Scholtmeijer remind us, nature "exists apart from human
control" (253). "Notes from Bartram" illustrates the consequences of
this. These poems demonstrate the challenges that Romantic poets like
Simms confronted in seeking to locate meaning in ecological phenomena
and the inadequacy of language to always or completely capture that. In
spite of the poet's best intentions, nature can thwart the imposition of
man's taxonomies and exegeses, and these poems manifest that resis-
Despite claiming that "Poets ... [are] our best teachers" when
it comes to evaluating "the objects of Divine Wisdom," Simms to
his credit recognizes these limitations to a poet's skill as a translator
(Poetry and the Practical 34). In Poetry and the Practical Simms speaks
of "the grateful in the innocent breath of flowers [and] the seductive
charms of wood and landscape." But that allure is a "subtle and mysteri-
ous influence of reverie and dream, which perpetually lead us out ... into
unknown and wondrous regions" (38). In contrast to a picturesque nature,
this metaphysical landscape that we have been awakened to by poetry and