“Donald Davidson was the only Vanderbilt Agrarian who knew the works of [William Gilmore] Simms fairly well…I think one reason Davidson may have stayed truer to the Southern hearth and home than John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and Alan Tate…was his extensive knowledge of Simms, the southern father. Ransom, Warren, and Tate, in a sense, were wandering orphans and thus, never quite had Davidson’s southern resolve…I think Davidson was the finest of that lot.” ~ Dr. James Kibler
The poet Donald Davidson, speaking metaphorically (or, maybe he was being literal?) said he could feel the ghost of the great Southern literary genius William Gilmore Simms, visiting him at his plantation. So he spoke to him of our time, saying we are a “century of no-belief; they cannot read your stories Gilmore Simms. The sounds of the year 1956 are sirens and Magnavox. [They] will not yield to that unearthly logic. I have seen the flag of death the modern flies, and will have none of it”.
Of all the Vanderbilt agrarians, I get the feeling that Davidson had the biggest heart – his, at least, was an intellectualism aimed at defending the dying culture of Dixie, not just her inoffensive, universal elements, but in all her unique and beautiful expression. This, as Dr. Kibler suggests, may have been because of Davidson’s love of the people of the south, and their literature, especially as expressed by the great Simms. Neither were snobbish intellectuals seeking to impose some vision or other on Southern folk. They looked to the folk for inspiration. It was for them they labored!
“In an evil time,” says Davidson, “the harp is hung on the wall, unstrung. The harpist’s pliant hand is dust and men read, as read they must, what once was sung.”
In other words, there was once a living and vibrant power to the southern people – a beating heart. But with the onset of modernism, they hung their harp on the wall, choosing to intellectually consider the old songs on paper, rather than enjoy them. They chose to analyze rather than vocalize; to criticize rather than harmonize.
Like Davidson and Simms before him, I love the South; not just its history, but its spirit.
I’ve tried to find like-minded spirits, and in my search I discovered the “League of the South”. But, recently the League has been engaging in activities that don’t seem to reflect the spirit of Dixie. I’ve been especially disappointed by their use of a new black and white flag. It’s a flag that seems soulless and devoid of any historical meaning.
Despite my public criticisms though, I showed up at a League event this past Saturday, and managed to get captured on film, numerous times, standing near, or under the Black’n’White flag.
Am I a hypocrite? Am I speaking out one side of my mouth on the net, but out of another when confronted with League members in real life?
Well, here’s my explanation, for what it’s worth:
I admit the debate between my friends on the alternative right and my friends in the League of the South has been confusing for me. I don’t quite know where I stand.
My intuition is to reject “activism” as so much “prancing around with signs, while praying to divine mass man, hoping he grants us a boon”. The very idea is distasteful and doesn’t seem consistent with the passionate violence engaged in by our Southern ancestors, who, even in defeat, took up white robes and craftiness when political action was no longer viable.
But I realize a certain utility in dressing nicely and speaking like gentlemen to people. This strategy can’t hurt anything, at least, even if it’s wrong in spirit. Thus – I’ve decided not to discourage my friends in the League; if they want to protest, then I’ll support them. To each his own. At least Western Civilization wont go into the night without an outcry – even if only a small one.
That was the spirit with which I attended the protest this past weekend.
As for their flag – I recognize the utility of “branding”, and realize how important it is to promote consistent messages during activist encounters. So, I understand why the League is using the black’n’white flag.
Still – and this gets to the heart of my criticism – I’m very concerned that the League has “hung the harp up on the wall”, unstrung, and unplayed. This tactical, “hip” approach to activism may “work”, in that, it may raise the League’s visibility and add a few numbers to the membership roll…but to what end?
I feel like the League may be analogous to Lytle, Warren, and Tate – they mean well, but they’ve lost the heart of Dixie. Can they read William Gilmore Simms, or was Davidson right? Are they wandering orphans?
(I hope not, but I’m afraid of where this activism of theirs will end up).
Unless we remember our literary roots, we’ll be hearthless …harpless … and worst of all: heartless.