Thomas Hardy

Where the Picnic Was by Thomas Hardy

Most of Thomas Hardy’s poetry is riveted with loss. It is clear from his poetry that he experienced loss and abandonment in his life. This poem, ‘Where the Picnic Was,’ like many of his others, describes a sense of loneliness that comes with the changes he could not avoid in his life. These changes brought on the “winter” of his life. In ‘Where the Picnic Was,’ the summer symbolizes his past, and the winter symbolizes his present and his future. The speaker believes that life and warmth are all in the past for him, and his present and future are filled with death and loss, symbolized by the cold lifelessness of winter. 

Where the Picnic Was by Thomas Hardy


Where the Picnic Was Analysis

Stanza One

Where we made the fire,

In the summer time,

Of branch and briar

On the hill to the sea

I slowly climb

Through winter mire,

And scan and trace

The forsaken place

Quite readily.

In the first stanza of ‘Where the Picnic Was,’ the speaker describes the place where they “made the fire in the summer time”. The use of the word “we” in the opening line reveals that the speaker is directing his words toward a person, or people directly rather than indirectly writing to all of his readers. With his opening lines, he reveals that he is talking to people with whom he once built a fire out “of branch and briar”. He describes the place where they built it as being “on a hill” near the sea. He is revisiting this place, and he describes how he “slowly climb[s]” the same hill. This time, however, he is there in the winter rather than the summer. As his eyes “scan and trace” he realizes that the place in which he stands is “the forsaken place”.


Stanza Two

Now a cold wind blows,

And the grass is grey,

But the spot still shows

As a burnt circle–aye,

And stick-ends, charred,

Still strew the sward

Whereon I stand,

Last relic of the band

Who came that day!

As the speaker stands there looking over the place where he once built a fire in the summertime, he feels “a cold wind blow”. This wind represents the changes that have taken place in his life. It is cold because the change had no consideration for his feelings, they simply happened whether he liked it or not. The speaker describes the grass as “grey”. As in his poem ‘Neutral Tones,’ the author uses the description of things as “grey” because the color symbolizes that which is dull and lifeless. He is clearly feeling dull and lifeless as his eyes scan the place that was once warm and alive, and is now dead and cold in the middle of winter. At this point, the speaker catches sight of the very spot where he and those to whom he speaks once burned a fire. The fact that “the spot still shows” and is “a burnt circle” suggests that the speaker and the addressees had been there often, building fires and enjoying time together in the summer. Now, however, the speaker is there alone, and it is in the cold dead of winter. This symbolizes the way in which his life has changed. What was once warm and filled with people and joy, was now dead and cold and lonely. The place in which he stands symbolizes the changes that have taken place in his life. The speaker sees “stick-ends, charred” which are evidence of what once happened there. He then proclaims, “Whereon I stand, last relic of the band who came that day!”. This reveals that what he sees in the circle left by the fire and the charred sticks is all that is left of the band of people who came to that hill together in the summer.


Stanza Three

Yes, I am here

Just as last year,

And the sea breathes brine

From its strange straight line

Up hither, the same

As when we four came.

– But two have wandered far

From this grassy rise

Into urban roar

Where no picnics are,

And one–has shut her eyes

For evermore.

As if to remind himself that what he has said is true, the speaker says, “Yes, I am here”. Then, he reveals that he has been there alone before, the previous year. This implies that quite some time has passed since the speaker visited the hill with his friends. The speaker describes the sea as it “breathes brine”. From his point of view, he can smell the water, and he can see the line where the water meets the shore. He then reminisces once more, claiming, “Up hither, the same as when we four came”. This is the first time the speaker mentions his addresses specifically enough to allow the reader to know that he is talking to three other people. When he was with them, they made a group of four. Then, finally, the speaker reveals what has happened. He claims that “two have wandered far from this grassy wise”. This implies that two of the people he used to spend time with have moved far away and are no longer a part of his life. They went into the city, which the speaker describes as going “into urban roar” to a place where there are no picnics.

Then, the speaker reveals what has truly been heavy on his mind during his visit. He claims that the fourth person “has shut her eyes for evermore”. This reveals that the speaker has lost a woman who was very important to him. Death took her, and this is why so much has changed. This is why the speaker visits this place alone in the dead of winter. It reminds him of what once was. The days when she was alive are represented by his memories of summer when everything was warm and alive and he was with the people he loved. His life after her death is represented by winter. His visits to the sight of their picnics take place in the winter because he knows that nothing will ever be the same, and he will not be alive again the way he was with her. This is why he visits when the scenery around him is dead and cold. The winter represents death, and death and abandonment are the things that have shaped the speaker’s life and changed him. He still reminisces about old times, but he visits the old picnic spot during the winter, because the winter represents the loss and abandonment he has experienced.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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