The picnic in Tennyson’s fictional “Audley Court” is so appealing that real people search for it to have a picnic there.
As the narrator describes it, he and his friend Francis Hale have packed a picnic. They have not seen one another for years and their expectations for a chatty afternoon are high.
They hoped to settle at a pub, “The Bull and Fleece,” but its crammed and so they move on; “For love or money. Let us picnic there / At Audley Court.”
Finding a grassy place in an orchard where they spread a damask cloth and open basket spread food a “dusky loaf,” cold game pie of pigeon, quail, lark and leveret (a very young hare) with egg yolks in aspic, a flask of cider.
The friends sit and talk of their lives, politics (they are not in agreement), and lovers. They talk politics, and then Francis sings a mournful song about separated lovers:
“Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, sleep, and dream of me:
Sleep, Ellen, folded in thy sister’s arm,
And sleeping, haply dream her arm is mine.”
The unpicnicky song dampens the otherwise convivial conversation. But the friends are mellow but their parting seems final: So sang we each to either, Francis Hale,
The farmer’s son, who lived across the bay,
My friend; and I, that having wherewithal,
And in the fallow leisure of my life
A rolling stone of here and everywhere,
Did what I would; but ere the night we rose
And saunter’d home beneath a moon, that, just
In crescent, dimly rain’d about the leaf
Twilights of airy silver, till we reach’d
The limit of the hills; and as we sank
From rock to rock upon the glooming quay,
The town was hush’d beneath us: lower down
The bay was oily calm; the harbour-buoy,
Sole star of phosphorescence in the calm,
With one green sparkle ever and anon
At the time Tennyson composed “Audley Court” in the autumn of 1838, his love life was unsettled and no picnic. He was unofficially engaged to Emily Sellwood, but passionately attracted to Rosa Barry, his muse for the poem Maud, and Sophie Rawnsley, a family friend. He married Selwood.
Featured Image: Samuel Laurance. Alfred Tennyson(1840)
See Alfred Tennyson. ” Audley Court.” In English Idylls and Other Poems. London, 1842.