top of page

Kensington Garden, by Thomas Tickell

Updated: Mar 4

Walking through Kensington Gardens today I came across a plaque that gave information on the poet Thomas Tickell (1685-1740) who wrote a poem about a fallen fairy kingdom that used to be in Kensington Garden.

This poem reaffirms the mystical and magickal connections to this part of London. At this time of year you can really feel the presence of fairies.

Where Kensington, high o'er the neighbouring lands

Midst greens and sweets, a regal fabric, stands,

And sees each spring, luxuriant in her bowers,

A snow of blossoms, and a wild of flowers,

The dames of Britain oft in crowds repair

To gravel walks, and unpolluted air.

Here, while the town in damps and darkness lies,

They breathe in sun-shine, and see azure skies;

Each walk, with robes of various dyes bespread,

Seems from afar a moving tulip-bed,

Where rich brocades and glossy damasks glow,

And chints, the rival of the showery bow.

Here England's daughter, darling of the land,

Sometimes, surrounded with her virgin band,

Gleams through the shades. She, towering o'er the rest,

Stands fairest of the fairer kind confest,

Form'd to gain hearts, that Brunswick's cause deny'd,

And charm a people to her father's side.

Long have these groves to royal guests been known,

Nor Nassau first prefer'd them to a throne.

Ere Norman banners wav'd in British air;

Ere lordly Hubba with the golden hair

Pour'd in his Danes; ere elder Julius came;

Or Dardan Brutus gave our isle a name;

A prince of Albion's lineage grac'd the wood,

The scene of wars, and stain'd with lovers' blood.

You, who thro' gazing crowds, your captive throng,

Throw pangs and passions, as you move along,

Turn on the left, ye fair, your radiant eyes,

Where all unlevel'd the gay garden lies:

If generous anguish for another's pains

Ere heav'd your hearts or shiver'd through your veins,

Look down attentive on the pleasing dale,

And listen to my melancholy tale.

That hollow space, were now in living rows

Line above line the yew's sad verdure grows,

Was, ere the planter's hand its beauty gave,

A common pit, a rude unfashion'd cave.

The landscape now so sweet we well may praise:

But far, far sweeter in its ancient days,

Far sweeter was it, when its peopled ground

With fairy domes and dazzling towers was crown'd.

Where in the midst those verdant pillars spring,

Rose the proud palace of the Elfin king;

For every edge of vegetable green,

In happier years a crowded street was seen;

Nor all those leaves that now the prospect grace,

Could match the numbers of its pygmy race,

What urg'd this mighty empire to its fate?

A tale of woe and wonder, I relate.

When Albion rul'd the land, whose lineage came

From Neptune mingling with a mortal dame,

Their midnight pranks the sprightly fairies play'd

On every hill, and danc'd in every shade.

But, foes to sun-shine, most they took delight

In dells and dales conceal'd from human sight:

There hew'd their houses in the arching rock;

Or scoop'd the bosom of the blasted oak;

Or heard, o'ershadow'd by some shelving hill,

The distant murmurs of the falling rill.

They, rich in pilfer'd spoils, indulg'd their mirth,

And pity'd the huge wretched sons of Earth.

Ev'n now, 'tis said, the hinds o'erhear their strain,

And strive to view their airy forms in vain:

They to their cells at man's approach repair,

Like the shy leveret, or the mother-hare,

The whilst poor mortals startle at the sound

Of unseen footsteps on the haunted ground.

Amid this garden, then with woods o'ergrown,

Stood the lov'd seat of royal Oberon.

From every region to his palace-gate

Came peers and princes of the fairy state,

Who, rank'd in council round the sacred shade,

Their monarch's will and great behests obey'd.

From Thames' fair banks, by lofty towers adorn'd,

With loads of plunder oft his chiefs return'd:

Hence in proud robes, and colours bright and gay,

Shone every knight and every lovely fay.

Whoe'er on Powell's dazzling stage display'd,

Hath fam'd king Pepin and his court survey'd,

May guess, if old by modern things we trace,

The pomp and splendour of the fairy-race.

By magic fenc'd, by spells encompass'd round,

No mortal touch'd this interdicted ground;

No mortal enter'd, those alone who came

Stol'n from the couch of some terrestrial dame:

For oft of babes they robb'd the matron's bed,

And left some sickly changeling in their stead.

It chanc'd a youth of Albion's royal blood

Was foster'd here, the wonder of the wood.

Milkah for wiles above her peers renown'd,

Deep-skill'd in charms and many a mystic sound,

As through the regal dome she sought for prey,

Observ'd the infant Albion where he lay

In mantles broider'd o'er with georgeous pride,

And stole him from the sleeping mother's side.

Who now but Milkah triumphs in her mind!

Ah, wretched nymph, to future evils blind!

The time shall come when thou shalt dearly pay

The theft, hard-hearted! of that guilty day:

Thou in thy turn shalt like the queen repine,

And all her sorrows doubled shall be thine:

He who adorns thy house, the lovely boy

Who now adorns it, shall at length destroy.

Two hundred moons in their pale course had seen

The gay-rob'd fairies glimmer on the green,

And Albion now had reach'd in youthful prime

To nineteen years, as mortals measure time.

Flush'd with resistless charms he fir'd to love

Each nymph and little Dryad of the grove;

For skilful Milkah spar'd not to employ

Her utmost art to rear the princely boy;

Each supple limb she swath'd, and tender bone,

And to the Elfin standard kept him down;

She robb'd dwarf-elders of their fragrant fruit,

And fed him early with the daisy's root,

Whence through his veins the powerful juices ran,

And form'd in beauteous miniature the man.

Yet still, two inches taller than the rest,

His lofty port his human birth confest;

A foot in height, how stately did he show!

How look superior on the crowd below!

What knight like him could toss the rushy lance!

Who move so graceful in the mazy dance!

A shape so nice, or features half so fair,

What elf could boast! or such a flow of hair!

Bright Kenna saw, a princess born to reign,

And felt the charmer burn in every vein.

She, heiress to this empire's potent lord,

Prais'd like the stars, and next the Moon ador'd.

She, whom at distance thrones and princedoms view'd,

To whom proud Oriel and Azuriel sued,

In her high palace languish'd, void of joy,

And pin'd in secret for a mortal boy.

He too was smitten, and discreetly strove

By courtly deeds to gain the virgin's love.

For her he cull'd the fairest flower that grew,

Ere morning suns had drain'd their fragrant dew;

He chas'd the hornet in his mid-day flight,

And brought her glow-worms in the noon of night;

When on ripe fruits she cast a wishing eye,

Did ever Albion think the tree too high!

He show'd her where the pregnant goldfinch hung,

And the wren-mother brooding o'er her young;

To her th' inscription on their eggs he read,

(Admire, ye clerks, the youth whom Milkah bred)

To her he show'd each herb of virtuous juice,

Their powers distinguish'd, and describ'd their use:

All vain their powers, alas! to Kenna prove,

And well sung Ovid, ``There's no herb for love.''

As when a ghost, enlarg'd from realms below,

Seeks its old friend to tell some secret woe,

The poor shade shivering stands, and must not break

His painful silence, till the mortal speak:

So far'd it with the little love-sick maid,

Forbid to utter, what her eyes betray'd.

He saw her anguish, and reveal'd his flame,

And spar'd the blushes of the tongue-ty'd dame.

The day would fail me, should I reckon o'er

The sighs they lavish'd, and the oaths they swore

In words so melting, that compar'd with those

The nicest courtship of terrestrial beaux

Would sound like compliments, from country clowns

To red cheek'd sweet-hearts in their home-spun gowns.

All in a lawn of many a various hue

A bed of flowers (a fairy forest) grew;

'Twas here one noon, the gaudiest of the May,

The still, the secret, silent, hour of day,

Beneath a lofty tulip's ample shade

Sat the young lover and th' immortal maid.

They thought all fairies slept, ah, luckless pair!

Hid, but in vain, in the Sun's noon-tide glare!

When Albion, leaning on his Kenna's breast,

Thus all the softness of his soul exprest:

All things are hush'd. The Sun's meridian rays

Veil the horizon in one mighty blaze:

Nor moon nor star in Heaven's blue arch is seen

With kindly rays to silver o'er the green,

Grateful to fairy eyes; they secret take

Their rest, and only wretched mortals wake.

This dead of day I fly to thee alone,

A world to me, a multitude in one.

Oh, sweet as dew-drops on these flowery lawns,

When the sky opens, and the evening dawns!

Straight as the pink, that towers so high in air,

Soft as the blow-bell! as the daisy, fair!

Blest be the hour, when first I was convey'd

An infant captive to this blissful shade!

And blest the hand that did my form refine,

And shrunk my stature to a match with thine!

Glad I for thee renounce my royal birth,

And all the giant-daughters of the Earth.

Thou, if thy breast with equal ardour burn,

Renounce thy kind, and love for love return.

So from us two, combin'd by nuptial ties,

A race unknown of demi-gods shall rise.

O speak, my love! my vows with vows repay,

And sweetly swear my rising fears away.''

To whom (the shining azure of her eyes

More brighten'd) thus th' enamour'd maid replies:

By all the stars, and first the glorious Moon,

I swear, and by the head of Oberon,

A dreadful oath! no prince of fairy line

Shall e'er in wedlock plight his vows with mine.

Where-e'er my footsteps in the dance are seen,

May toadstools rise, and mildews blast the green,

May the keen east-wind blight my favourite flowers,

And snakes and spotted adders haunt my bowers.

Confin'd whole ages in an hemlock shade

There rather pine I a neglected maid,

Or worse, exil'd from Cynthia's gentle rays,

Parch in the sun a thousand summer-days,

Than any prince, a prince of fairy line,

In sacred wedlock plight his vows with mine.''

She ended: and with lips of rosy hue

Dipp'd five times over in ambrosial dew,

Stifled his words. When, from his covert rear'd,

The frowning brow of Oberon appear'd.

A sun-flower's trunk was near, whence (killing sight!)

The monarch issued, half an ell in height:

Full on the pair a furious look he cast,

Nor spoke; but gave his bugle-horn a blast,

That through the woodland echoed far and wide,

And drew a swarm of subjects to his side.

A hundred chosen knights, in war renown'd,

Drive Albion banish'd from the sacred ground;

And twice ten myriads guard the bright abodes,

Where the proud king, amidst his demi-gods,

For Kenna's sudden bridal bids prepare,

And to Azuriel gives the weeping fair.

If fame in arms, with ancient birth combin'd,

A faultless beauty, and a spotless mind,

To love and praise can generous souls incline,

That love, Azuriel, and that praise, was thine.

Blood only less than royal fill'd thy veins,

Proud was thy roof, and large thy fair domains.

Where now the skies high Holland-House invades,

And short-liv'd Warwick sadden'd all the shades,

Thy dwelling stood: nor did in him afford

A nobler owner, or a lovelier lord.

For thee a hundred fields produc'd their store,

And by thy name ten thousand vassals swore;

So lov'd thy name, that, at their monarch's choice,

All fairy shouted with a general voice.

Oriel alone a secret rage supprest,

That from his bosom heav'd the golden vest.

Along the banks of Thame his empire ran,

Wide was his range, and populous his clan.

When cleanly servants, if we trust old tales,

Beside their wages had good fairy vails,

Whole heaps of silver tokens, nightly paid,

The careful wife, or the neat dairy-maid,

Sunk not his stores. With smiles and powerful bribes

He gain'd the leaders of his neighbour tribes,

And ere the night the face of Heaven had chang'd,

Beneath his banners half the fairies rang'd.

Meanwhile, driven back to Earth, a lonely way

The cheerless Albion wander'd half the day,

A long, long journey, choak'd with brakes and thorns

Ill-measur'd by ten thousand barley-corns.

Tir'd out at length a spreading stream he spy'd

Fed by old Thame, a daughter of the tide:

'Twas then a spreading stream, though now, its fame

Obscur'd, it bears the Creek's inglorious name,

And creeps, as through contracted bounds it strays,

A leap for boys in these degenerate days.

On the clear crystal's verdant bank he stood,

And thrice look'd backward on the fatal wood,

And thrice he groan'd, and thrice he beat his breast,

And thus in tears his kindred gods addrest.

If true, ye watery powers, my lineage came

From Neptune mingling with a mortal dame;

Down to his court, with coral garlands crown'd,

Through all your grottoes waft my plaintive sound,

And urge the god, whose trident shakes the Earth,

To grace his offspring, and assert my birth.''

He said. A gentle Naiad heard his prayer,

And, touch'd with pity for a lover's care,

Shoots to the sea, where low beneath the tides

Old Neptune in th' unfathom'd deep resides.

Rouz'd at the news, the sea's stern sultan swore

Revenge, and scarce from present arms forbore;

But first the nymph his harbinger he sends,

And to her care the favourite boy commends.

As thro' the Thames her backward course she guides,

Driv'n up his current by the refluent tides,

Along his banks the pygmy legions spread

She spies, and haughty Oriel at their head,

Soon with wrong'd Albion's name the host she fires,

And counts the ocean's god, among his sires;

The ocean's god, by whom shall be o'erthrown,

(Styx heard his oath) the tyrant Oberon.

See here beneath a toadstool's deadly gloom

Lies Albion: him the Fates your leader doom.

Hear, and obey; 'tis Neptune's powerful call,

By him Azuriel and his king shall fall.''

She said. They bow'd: and on their shields up-bore

With shouts their new saluted emperor.

E'en Oriel smil'd: at least to smile he strove,

And hopes of vengeance triumph'd over love.

See now the mourner of the lonely shade

By gods protected, and by hosts obey'd,

A slave, a chief, by fickle Fortune's play,

In the short course of one revolving day,

What wonder if the youth, so strangely blest,

Felt his heart flutter in his little breast!

His thick embattled troops, with secret pride,

He views extended half an acre wide;

More light he treads, more tall he seems to rise,

And struts a straw-breadth nearer to the skies.

O for thy Muse, great Bard, whose lofty strains

In battle join'd the Pygmies and the Cranes;

Each gaudy knight, had I that warmth divine,

Each colour'd legion in my verse should shine.

But simple I, and innocent of art,

The tale, that sooth'd my infant years, impart,

The tale I heard whole winter-eves, untir'd,

And sing the battles, that my nurse inspir'd.

Now the shrill corn-pipes, echoing loud to arms,

To rank and file reduce the straggling swarms,

Thick rows of spears at once, with sudden glare,

A grove of needles, glitter in the air;

Loose in the winds small ribbon-streamers flow,

Dipt in all colours of the heavenly-bow,

And the gay host, that now its march pursues,

Gleams o'er the meadows in a thousand hues.

On Buda's plains thus formidably bright,

Shone Asia's sons, a pleasing dreadful sight.

In various robes their silken troops were seen,

The blue, the red, and prophet's sacred green:

When blooming Brunswick, near the Danube's flood,

First stain'd his maiden sword in Turkish blood.

Unseen and silent march the slow brigades

Through pathless wilds, and unfrequented shades.

In hope already vanquish'd by surprise,

In Albion's power the fairy empire lies;

Already has he seiz'd on Kenna's charms,

And the glad beauty trembles in his arms.

The march concludes: and now in prospect near,

But fenc'd with arms, the hostile towers appear,

For Oberon, or Druids falsely sing,

Wore his prime visier in a magic ring,

A subtle spright, that opening plots foretold

By sudden dimness on the beamy gold.

Hence, in a cresent form'd, his legions bright

With beating bosoms waited for the fight;

To charge their foes they march, a glittering band,

And in their van doth bold Azuriel stand.

What rage that hour did Albion's soul possess,

Let chiefs imagine, and let lovers guess!

Forth issuing from his ranks, that strove in vain

To check his course, athwart the dreadful plain

He strides indignant: and with haughty cries

To single fight the fairy prince defies.

Forbear! rash youth, th' unequal war to try;

Nor, sprung from mortals, with immortals vie.

No god stands ready to avert thy doom,

Nor yet thy grandsire of the waves is come.

My words are vain — no words the wretch can move,

By Beauty dazzled, and bewitch'd by Love:

He longs, he burns, to win the glorious prize,

And sees no danger, while he sees her eyes.

Now from each host the eager warriors start.

And furious Albion flings his hasty dart,

'Twas feather'd from the bee's transparent wing,

And its shaft ended in a hornet's sting;

But, tost in rage, it flew without a wound,

High o'er the foe, and guiltless pierc'd the ground.

Not so Azuriel's: with unerring aim,

Too near the needle-pointed javelin came,

Drove through the seven-fold shield, and silken vest,

And lightly ras'd the lover's ivory breast.

Rouz'd at the smart, and rising to the blow,

With his keen sword he cleaves his fairy foe,

Sheer from the shoulder to the waste he cleaves,

And of one arm the tottering trunk bereaves.

His useless steel brave Albion wields no more,

But sternly smiles, and thinks the combat o'er:

So had it been, had aught of mortal strain,

Or less than fairy, felt the deadly pain.

But empyreal forms, howe'er in fight

Gash'd and dismember'd, easily unite.

As some frail cup of China's purest mold,

With azure varnish'd, and bedropt with gold,

Though broke, if cur'd by some nice virgin's hands,

In its old strength and pristine beauty stands;

The tumults of the boiling bohea braves,

And holds secure the coffee's sable waves:

So did Azuriel's arm, if Fame say true,

Rejoin the vital trunk whence first it grew;

And, whilst in wonder fix'd poor Albion stood,

Plung'd the curs'd sabre in his heart's warm blood.

The golden broidery, tender Milkah wove,

The breast, to Kenna sacred and to Love,

Lie rent and mangled: and the gaping wound

Pours out a flood of purple on the ground.

The jetty lustre sickens in his eyes:

On his cold cheeks the bloomy freshness dies;

Oh Kenna, Kenna, thrice he try'd to say,

Kenna, farewel! and sigh'd his soul away.

His fall the Dryads with loud shrieks deplore,

By sister Naiads echo'd from the shore,

Thence down to Neptune's secret realms convey'd,

Through grotts, and glooms, and many a coral shade.

The sea's great sire, with looks denouncing war,

The trident shakes, and mounts the pearly car:

With one stern frown the wide-spread deep deforms,

And works the madding ocean into storms.

O'er foaming mountains, and through bursting tides,

Now high, now low, the bounding chariot rides,

Till through the Thames in a loud whirlwind's roar

It shoots, and lands him on the destin'd shore.

Now fix'd on earth his towering stature stood,

Hung o'er the mountains, and o'erlook'd the wood.

To Brumpton's grove one ample stride he took,

(The valleys trembled, and the forests shook)

The next huge step reach'd the devoted shade,

Where choak'd in blood was wretched Albion laid:

Where now the vanquish'd, with the victors join'd,

Beneath the regal banners stood combin'd.

Th' embattled dwarfs with rage and scorn he past,

And on their town his eye vindictive cast.

In deep foundations his strong trident cleaves.

And high in air th' up-rooted empire heaves;

On his broad engine the vast ruin hung,

Which on the foe with force divine he flung:

Aghast the legions, in th' approaching shade,

Th' inverted spires and rocking domes survey'd,

That, downward tumbling on the host below,

Crush'd the whole nation at one dreadful blow.

Towers, arms, nymphs, warriors, are together lost,

And a whole empire falls to sooth said Albion's ghost.

Such was the period, long restrain'd by Fate,

And such the downfall of the fairy state.

This dale, a pleasing region, not unblest,

This dale possest they; and had still possest;

Had not their monarch, with a father's pride,

Rent from her lord th' inviolable bride,

Rash to dissolve the contract seal'd above,

The solemn vows and sacred bonds of love.

Now, where his elves so sprightly danc'd the round,

No violet breathes, nor daisy paints the ground,

His towers and people fill one common grave,

A shapeless ruin, and a barren cave.

Beneath huge hills of smoking piles he lay

Stunn'd and confounded a whole summer's day,

At length awak'd (for what can long restrain

Unbody'd spirits!) but awak'd in pain:

And as he saw the desolated wood,

And the dark den where once his empire stood,

Grief chill'd his heart: to his half-open'd eyes

In every oak a Neptune seem'd to rise:

He fled: and left, with all his trembling peers,

The long possession of a thousand years.

Through bush, through brake, through groves, and gloomy dales,

Through dank and dry, o'er streams and flowery vales,

Direct they fled; but often look'd behind,

And stopt and started at each rustling wind.

Wing'd with like fear, his abdicated bands

Disperse and wander into different lands.

Part hid beneath the Peak's deep caverns lie,

In silent glooms, impervious to the sky;

Part on fair Avon's margin seek repose,

Whose stream o'er Britain's midmost region flows,

Where formidable Neptune never came,

And seas and oceans are but known by fame:

Some to dark woods and secret shade retreat:

And some on mountains choose their airy seat.

There haply by the ruddy damsel seen,

Or shepherd-boy, they featly foot the green,

While from their steps a circling verdure springs;

But fly from towns, and dread the courts of kings.

Mean-while said Kenna, loth to quit the grove,

Hung o'er the body of her breathless love,

Try'd every art, (vain arts!) to change his doom,

And vow'd (vain vows!) to join him in the tomb.

What could she do? the Fates alike deny

The dead to live, or fairy forms to die.

An herb there grows (the same old Homer tells

Ulysses bore to rival Circe's spells)

Its root is ebon-black, but sends to light

A stem that bends with flowrets milky white,

Moly the plant, which gods and fairies know,

But secret kept from mortal men below.

On his pale limbs its virtuous juice she shed,

And murmur'd mystic numbers o'er the dead,

When lo! the little shape by magic power

Grew less and less, contracted to a flower;

A flower, that first in this sweet garden smil'd,

To virgins sacred, and the Snow-drop styl'd.

The new-born plant with sweet regret she view'd,

Warm'd with her sighs, and with her tears bedew'd,

Its ripen'd seeds from bank to bank convey'd,

And with her lover whiten'd half the shade.

Thus won from death each spring she sees him grow,

And glorious in the vegetable snow,

Which now increas'd through wide Britannia's plains,

Its parent's warmth and spotless name retains,

First leader of the flowery race aspires,

And foremost catches the Sun's genial fires,

'Mid frosts and snows triumphant dares appear,

Mingles the seasons, and leads on the year.

Deserted now of all the pigmy race,

Nor man nor fairy touch'd this guilty place.

In heaps on heaps, for many a rolling age,

It lay accurs'd, the mark of Neptune's rage,

Till great Nassau recloath'd the desert shade,

Thence sacred to Britannia's monarchs made.

'Twas then the green-rob'd nymph, fair Kenna came,

(Kenna that gave the neighbouring town its name)

Proud when she saw th' ennobled garden shine,

With nymphs and heroes of her lover's line,

She vow'd to grace the mansions once her own.

And picture out in plants the fairy town.

To far-fam'd Wise her flight unseen she sped,

And with gay prospects fill'd the craftsman's head,

Soft in his fancy drew a pleasing scheme,

And plann'd that landscape in a morning dream.

With the sweet view the sire of gardens fir'd,

Attempts the labour by the nymph inspir'd,

The walls and streets in rows of yew designs,

And forms the town in all its ancient lines;

The corner trees he lifts more high in air,

And girds the palace with a verdant square;

Nor knows, while round he views the rising scenes,

He builds a city as he plants his greens.

With a sad pleasure the aërial maid

This image of her ancient realms survey'd,

How chang'd, how fall'n from its primeval pride!

Yet here each moon, the hour her lover dy'd,

Each moon his solemn obsequies she pays,

And leads the dance beneath pale Cynthia's rays;

Pleas'd in these shades to head her fairy train,

And grace the groves where Albion's kinsmen reign.

46 views0 comments


bottom of page