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 107

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Page 107

Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 107 THE SIMMS REVIEW

its ability to "raise ... the soul" and "prevent degradation of the sublime
into the animal," explains Kibler, is frighteningly inscrutable (Poetry
and the Practical xxxviii). Its properties transcend any human ability to
acknowledge or express them. It is, says Simms, a "nature without us and
within, whose subtle associations are wholly beyond our control—teach-
ing a condition more profound and mysterious than any thing which has
within the ordinary province of Nature" (Poetry and the Practical 38).
This powerlessness in the face of the sublime corresponds to the violent,
silent, and watchful flora and fauna of "Notes from Bartram." Much like
"Palmetto Royal,""Wood Pelican," or "Cormorants," the "subtle asso-
ciations" of nature are "beyond our control" to decipher and are "more
profound and mysterious" than is possible to adequately explain. As
David Newton has suggested, this is a dilemma that Simms recognized
and shared with his British predecessors Shelley and Coleridge: "Since
the translated words of the poet are always finite, even the most evocative
poem remains an inadequate utterance, an intimation of a more profound,
unspeakable meaning" (33-34).
If the symbolic value of these poems remains elusive, Simms's
conveyance of that potency to resist interpretation nonetheless depicts
nature's transcendent power. But even this ambivalence can be meaning-
ful. In their discussion of the relationship between nature and language,
Raglon and Scholtmeijer explain that the texts that avoid "impos[ing] a
linguistic experience on the world" are nonetheless remarkable by virtue
of their capacity to do "the opposite by revivifying and renewing our
experience of the world" (250). They argue that "the best writing about
nature builds into its narrative allusions to nature's resistance ... The
best stories about nature are those that have sensed the power of nature
to resist, or question, or evade the meanings we attempt to impose upon
the natural world" (252). For a poet committed to emphasizing the mul-
tivalent "power of nature," to use Brennan's phrase, even the silences
of Simms's "Notes from Bartram" are able to connote this potency
("Simms, Wordsworth" 37). Far more than a footnote to his Romantic
practice, Simms's "Notes on Bartram" remind us of the range, fecundity,
and complexity of a poet whose protean output continues to challenge
readers and refine our understanding of the literary currents he navigated
and in many ways charted during the course of his long and remarkable
career.