Delivered as a three-part lecture series in 1854 at the famous Hibernian Society Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, Simms’s spirited defense of poetry stands in the nobel line of poetic credos from poets such as Sir Philip Sidney and Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is the only full-length work of its kind in American literature, and it has never before been published.
Seventh in the University of Arkansas Press’s Simms Series, Poetry and the Practical is a clear, forceful rebuttal of arguments that would relegate poetry to the margins of life. It proclaims the high calling of poets as spokesmen and romantic visionaries, underscoring their mission to reveal truth and passion, mind and heart and to transcend the limiting bounds of the empirical. In proving poetry’s utility and worth, Simms uses all the tools of persuasion open to him: his wide reading, his considerable knowledge of the history of culture and civilizations, his understanding of the values of place and tradition, and, above all, an oratorical eloquence, which allows his words to leave the page in a rush of inspiration.
These lectures, which still retain their identity as scripts prepared and punctuated for performance, provide profound insight into Simms the poet and into the effects of industrialization, the southern sensibility, and the influence of European thought on southern literature at a critical point in that literature’s development.