Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extract from The Pleasures of Imagination
By Mark Akenside (1721–1770)
 
  SAY, why was man so eminently raised
Amid the vast creation? why ordained
Through life and death to dart his piercing eye,
With thoughts beyond the limits of his frame,
But that the Omnipotent might send him forth,        5
In sight of mortal and immortal powers
As on a boundless theatre, to run
The great career of justice; to exalt
His generous aim to all diviner deeds;
To chase each partial purpose from his breast;        10
And through the mists of passion and of sense,
And through the tossing tide of chance and pain,
To hold his course unfaltering, while the voice
Of Truth and Virtue, up the steep ascent
Of Nature, calls him to his high reward,—        15
The applauding smile of Heaven? Else wherefore burns
In mortal bosoms this unquenched hope
That breathes from day to day sublimer things,
And mocks possession? wherefore darts the mind
With such resistless ardour to embrace        20
Majestic forms, impatient to be free;
Spurning the gross control of wilful might;
Proud of the strong contention of her toils;
Proud to be daring? Who but rather turns
To heaven’s broad fire his unconstrained view        25
Than to the glimmering of a waxen flame?
Who that from Alpine heights his labouring eye
Shoots round the wide horizon, to survey
Nilus or Ganges rolling his bright wave
Through mountains, plains, through empires black with shade,        30
And continents of sand, will turn his gaze
To mark the windings of a scanty rill
That murmurs at his feet? The high-born soul
Disdains to rest her heaven-aspiring wing
Beneath its native quarry. Tired of earth,        35
And this diurnal scene, she springs aloft
Through fields of air; pursues the flying storm;
Rides on the vollied lightning through the heavens;
Or, yoked with whirlwinds and the northern blast,
Sweeps the long track of day. Then high she soars        40
The blue profound, and hovering round the sun,
Beholds him pouring the redundant stream
Of light, beholds his unrelenting sway
Bend the reluctant planets to absolve
The fated rounds of time. Thence, far effused        45
She darts her swiftness up the long career
Of devious comets, through its burning signs,
Exulting, measures the perennial wheel
Of Nature, and looks back on all the stars,
Whose blended light as with a milky zone        50
Invests the orient. Now amazed she views
The empyreal waste, where happy spirits hold,
Beyond this concave heaven, their calm abode;
And fields of radiance, whose unfading light
Has travelled the profound six thousand years,        55
Nor yet arrives in sight of mortal things.
Even on the barriers of the world untired
She meditates the eternal depth below;
Till, half recoiling, down the headlong steep
She plunges; soon o’erwhelmed and swallowed up        60
In that immense of being. There her hopes
Rest at the fated goal. For, from the birth
Of mortal man, the sovran Maker said,
That not in humble nor in brief delight,
Not in the fading echoes of renown,        65
Power’s purple robes, nor Pleasure’s flowery lap,
The soul should find enjoyment; but, from these
Turning disdainful to an equal good,
Through all the ascent of things enlarge her view,
Till every bound at length should disappear,        70
And infinite perfection close the scene.
 
 
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