Adam Rounce

Perhaps no type of poetry seems more remote from the modern reader than the eighteenth-century didactic poem. The very word "didactic" suggests a heavy, arid, pedagogic mode of writing, seemingly antithetical to any contemporary impression of art as "self-expression." It is not the least of the many paradoxes in the reputation of Mark Akenside's didactic poem The Pleasures of Imagination (1744), a work that found enormous Europe-wide success soon after its publication, that it should, for much of the twentieth century, have been relegated to an academic backwater of long eighteenth-century treatises on aesthetics. For Akenside wrote to be read not by the specialized few but by a general audience, and his poem was nothing less than a manifesto for how individuals could cultivate, encourage, and ultimately perfect their powers of imaginative appreciation in order to improve themselves, and consequently the whole world. Although he (predictably) failed to achieve these lofty aims, he followed such poetic giants as Milton and Pope, and influenced Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats, among others, leaving a lasting and very unusual work of art. In what follows, I summarize Akenside's intentions in the poem, explain their intellectual context, and suggest ways in which, despite its peculiarities, The Pleasures of Imagination can be approached, understood, and enjoyed by a reader in the twenty-first century.

0 0

Post a comment