Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
Pleasures of Imagination
By Mark Akenside (1721–1770)
 
AS Memnon’s marble harp renowned of old
By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch
Of Titan’s ray, with each repulsive string
Consenting, sounded through the warbling air
Unbidden strains; e’en so did Nature’s hand        5
To certain species of external things
Attune the finer organs of the mind;
So the glad impulse of congenial powers,
Or of sweet sound, or fair-proportioned form,
The grace of motion, or the bloom of light,        10
Thrills through imagination’s tender frame,
From nerve to nerve; all naked and alive
They catch the spreading rays; till now the soul
At length discloses every tuneful spring,
To that harmonious movement from without,        15
Responsive. Then the inexpressive strain
Diffuses its enchantment; Fancy dreams
Of sacred fountains and Elysian groves,
And vales of bliss; the Intellectual Power
Bends from his awful throne a wondering ear,        20
And smiles; the passions gently soothed away,
Sink to divine repose, and love and joy
Alone are waking; love and joy serene
As airs that fan the summer. O attend,
Whoe’er thou art whom these delights can touch,        25
Whose candid bosom the refining love
Of nature warms; O, listen to my song,
And I will guide thee to her favorite walks,
And teach thy solitude her voice to hear,
And point her loveliest features to thy view.        30
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        35
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;        40
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,        45
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 ardor to embrace        50
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,        55
Than to the glimmering of a waxen flame?
Who that, from Alpine heights, his laboring eye
Shoots round the wide horizon to survey
Nilus or Ganges rolling his broad tide
Through mountains, plains, through empires black with shade,        60
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        65
And this diurnal scene, she springs aloft,
Through fields of air pursues the flying storm;
Rides on the volleyed lightning through the heavens;
Or, yoked with whirlwinds and the northern blast,
Sweeps the long track of day. Then high she soars        70
The blue profound, and hovering o’er the sun
Beholds him pouring the redundant stream
Of light: beholds the unrelenting sway
Bend the reluctant planets to absolve
The fated rounds of time. Thence far effused        75
She darts her swiftness up the long career
Of devious comets; through its burning signs
Exulting circles the perennial wheel
Of nature, and looks back on all the stars,
Whose blended light, as with a milky zone,        80
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,        85
Nor yet arrived in sight of mortal things.
*        *        *        *        *
  Nature’s care, to all her children just,
With richer treasures and an ampler state,
Endows at large whatever happy man
Will deign to use them. His the city’s pomp,        90
The rural honors his: whate’er adorns
The princely dome, the column and the arch,
The breathing marbles and the sculptured gold,
Beyond the proud possessor’s narrow claim,
His tuneful breast enjoys. For him the Spring        95
Distils her dews, and from the silken gem
His lucid leaves unfolds; for him the hand
Of Autumn tinges every fertile branch
With blooming gold, and blushes like the morn.
Each passing Hour sheds tribute from her wings,        100
And still new beauties meet his lonely walk,
And loves unfelt attract him.
*        *        *        *        *
Look, then, abroad through Nature, to the range
Of planets, suns, and adamantine spheres,
Wheeling unshaken through the Void immense,        105
And speak, O man! does this capacious scene
With half that kindling majesty dilate
Thy strong conception, as when Brutus rose
Refulgent from the stroke of Cæsar’s fate,
Amid the crowd of patriots; and his arm        110
Aloft extending, like eternal Jove,
When guilt brings down the thunder, called aloud
On Tully’s name, and shook his crimson steel,
And bade the Father of his Country, hail!
For lo! the tyrant prostrate in the dust,        115
And Rome again is free!
 
 
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