The Picnic by Walter de la Mare


“….there had presented itself in the skies opposite to her the most astonishing sunset she had ever seen. It appeared as if the clouds must have been waiting in the wings all day for this last huge transformation scene. They were journeying, rank on rank, each to its appointed place, not only drenching heaven and earth with an enormous pomp of colour, but widening, shallowing, patterning the whole western horizon and even the zenith arched over her simple head. It was an amazingly joyful spectacle. One could hardly believe that again and again and again throughout the centuries of the earth’s solitary and peopled existence just such vast preparations as these must often have been made before…”

There are ‘glimpses’ of various lengths and regularity in this wondrous story, a story about a woman’s obsession. A story that should be one of the best 100 stories of all time in ‘That Glimpse of Truth’ I have been reviewing for months now (HERE). It embodies the non-supernatural sides of Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Taylor as one, and even exceeds them!
This woman is now in charge of a shop. An efficient life. And she nears spinsterhood, and today she glimpses a blind man outside the shop where she works. And she thinks of memories of holidays at the seaside when she was younger, a seaside that you know for what it is, utterly believable in that era when it is set, and the solitary picnics she had on the sand-dunes, and the glimpse of a man sitting on a balcony — a resident or tourist or, somehow, neither? — a glimpse that turns into a recurrent period of hope and passion, while reading a trivial, badly-written novel of romance back in the seaside hotel, as she puts herself within his sight with such slavery of obsession that cannot have been more overpowering. Then that lingering glimpse of a seaside sunset, that is nearly as temporary as glimpses go. And that brings us full circle, just after this very dying sunset, to the final glimpse, embedded within time’s own pervading of its own succeeding glimpses of itself, a glimpse of another blind man being led….


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