The Poet's Holy Craft represents the first full-length analysis and interpretation of William Gilmore Simms's poetry. Matthew C. Brennan demonstrates the comprehensiveness of Simms's romanticism by examining Simms's poetics, his experimental sonnets, and his deep affinity to William Wordsworth, which especially shows in Simms's pioneering attitudes toward nature and ecology.
The poetic career of antebellum Charleston writer William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) constitutes a cautionary tale of how ambition worthy of John Keats and talent comparable to any American poet before Walt Whitman could not alone guarantee a toehold in the literary canon. Although praised in his lifetime by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and William Cullen Bryant, Simms as a poet faced virtual erasure until a recent revival of scholarship. Building on the work of James Everett Kibler, Brennan argues that Simms exhibits the influence of British romanticism earlier than do his canonic contemporaries Henry W. Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Brennan's reappraisal maps Simms's early imitation of neoclassicism and George Lord Byron, and his slightly later absorption of Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Gothicism. Through study of Simms's letters, reviews, extant lectures, manuscripts, and drafts, Brennan delineates his subject's romantic poetics and offers new insights into his revision process. Brennan finds in Simms an interest in experimentation with the forms and themes of the romantic sonnet that supersedes that of even the British romantics. Noting Simms's deep affinity to Wordsworth, and to a lesser degree Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Brennan portrays Simms as remarkably in advance of Thoreau, although from a Southern context, in the environmental concerns that present themselves in his contemplative poetry and in his life and work at his home, Woodlands plantation.
In short The Poet's Holy Craft offers a corrective that rescues Simms from the long shadow cast on his literary legacy by his Confederate affiliations and illumines his original contributions to the romantic verse tradition.
Matthew C. Brennan is a professor of English at Indiana State University. He is the author of four collections of poetry, including The House with the Mansard Roof, as well as Wordsworth, Turner, and Romantic Landscape and The Gothic Psyche.
"For those who find it difficult to understand how devotion to a particular well-loved place can yield the universal truths of great art, this distinguished volume is exemplary demonstration. Taking his nod from Wordsworth's Lake District verse, Brennan, an expert on the English Romantics, charts Simms's contributions to world literature through his 'bioregionalism.' Among its many strengths, the work situates Simms's poetry within the context of the ecology of his plantation home, and charts a centre of his Romantic inspiration in the 'reality of locality.' Brennan frees Simms from the limitations created over the years by so many critics of American letters. It was bound to happen, but at last Brennan has done it masterfully."—James E. Kibler, editor of the Selected Poems of William Gilmore Simms
"Brennan surpasses the general trend in Simms scholarship, demonstrating why and how Simms's poetry is equally important in his and the American canons. Brennan obviously has done brilliant homework in charting Simms's poetic shift from Neoclassic to Romantic—especially in relation to Byron and Wordsworth among British poets—expertly illuminating Simms's techniques. This is an indispensable book in Simms studies and a worthy addition to the great body of scholarship on nineteenth-century American poets"—Benjamin F. Fisher, University of Mississippi