Evangeline by Longfellow - A Tale of Acadie
Sculpture of Evangeline
A Tale of Acadie
Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is an epic poem written about the undying love of a young man and woman who were separated on their wedding day. The poem was published in 1847.
Longfellow gave his Evangeline the enduring strength of a woman devoted to her beloved, which holds this epic poem together to the end.
The profound love that Evangeline and Gabriel had for each other is deeply expressed by Longfellow in his poem. With words he reaches out and grabs the heart of the reader, warming and wrenching it, then softens and consoles it. Throughout the poem, the reader is pulled along, feeling every emotion that the lovers feel.
This is a timeless and enduring story. It is a story of people torn from their homeland. It is a story of lovers torn from each other in the young bloom of life then reunited in heart-wrenching splendor and grace at death's door. It is a must read for all those who have a passion for true love that cannot be destroyed by life's tragedies. It is a story one will not soon forget.
"Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman's devotion,
List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy."
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
The Great Upheaval
Between 1755 and 1763 Acadians were forcibly removed and deported from the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The French called this area Acadie. The people of this land were sent to other British colonies in America, Britain, and France.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The French Called This area Acadie.
The British Conquest of Acadia happened in 1710. Over the next forty-five years the Acadians refused to sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to Britain. During this time period Acadians participated in various militia operations against the British and maintained vital supply lines to the French Fortress of Louisbourg and Fort Beausejour. During the French and Indian War, the British sought to neutralize any military threat Acadians posed and to interrupt the vital supply lines they provided to Louisbourg by deporting Acadians.
Families and friends were torn apart, spread far and wide, never to see each other again. This sad fate of a race inspired one of the greatest works of poetry ever written.
The epic poem describes the betrothal of a fictional Acadian girl named Evangeline Bellefontaine to her beloved Gabriel Lajeunesse, and their separation as the British deported the Acadians in the Great Upheaval.
The Forest Primeval
Longfellow opens the poem with an introduction to the forest primeval, where he describes the beauty of the land. Where the ancient forest, the whispers and murmurs of the pines, hemlocks with bearded moss and garments of green wail to the nearby ocean that answers in unhappy tones.
The land that once rang with the laughter and joy of a people who lived there in their once cozy homes of thatched cottages, were gone. The happy people taken away and separated from their home, their land and even their loved ones.
And the voices of the past cry out.
"Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!"
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
The Maiden is Wearing a Kirtle Like the Women of Acadie Wore
Pleasant Daily Life
Daily life in the village of Grand-Pre was described by Longfellow as pleasant. Matrons and maidens, in their kirtles and snow white caps sat out front of the thatched cottages, spinning flax. The noisy shuttles, the whir of the wheels mingled with songs the maidens sang.
The parish priest, as he took his daily stroll through the village, held out his hand to bless the children who ran to kiss his hand. The matrons and maidens rose to welcome him with affection.
Spinning Wheel, c. 1900
Image With Words
Longfellow paints an image with words of a people who lived in contentment and love. They were a simple race, farmers who were poor yet free from tyrants, rich in happiness with their abundance of crops and trust in each other.
Not a far distance from the village dwelt Benedict Bellefontaine, the wealthiest of the farmers. With him lived his daughter, Evangeline, who ran his household. They both were well-loved by all who knew them. Longfellow describes them so well that one can vision this man and young maiden clearly.
"Stalworth and stately in form was the man of seventy winters;
Hearty and hale was he, an oak that is covered with snow-flakes;
White as the snow were his locks, and his cheeks as brown as the oak-leaves.
Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers.
Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the wayside,
Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of her tresses!"
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
Land of the Acadians
Have you read "Evangeline"?
Gabriel and Evangeline
Of all the young men who knocked on the Bellefontaine door in hopes of winning Evangeline's love, there was only one who opened the door to her heart. Gabriel Lajeunesse was the son of Basil the blacksmith. Since early childhood Gabriel and Evangeline were as close as brother and sister. As they grew they were ever closer and became sweethearts.
The day came when the little boy was now a valiant young man with a face that "gladdened the earth with its light". The girl had become a woman, with all the hopes of a woman and a heart full of love. She knew she would fill her soon to be husband's home with an abundance of love, delight, and children.
In the lull of one pleasant summer eve, Basil and his son visited at the cottage of Benedict. As Evangeline attended to the honored guest with pipe and tobacco, her heart was pounding as Gabriel stood near.
The two old friends talked about the British ships anchored in the harbor, with cannons pointed at the village. On the morrow, all were to gather in the church to hear of the Majesty's mandate to be proclaimed as law in the land. The people were alarmed, not knowing what would happen.
Benedict supposed that the British were there on friendly terms, maybe only to ask for some of the abundance of crops to feed their children and livestock. Basil had different thoughts, born from the fear of the villagers and actions of the British. He informed Benedict that some villagers have left their homes, seeking shelter in the outskirts. Arms and weapons of all kind had been taken from the people.
Benedict could not believe that any harm would befall them. He spoke of the house and barn the young men of the village had built for Gabriel and Evangeline. "Shall we not then be glad, and rejoice in the joy of our children?" The notary was to be there soon with papers.
Evangeline blushed as she heard her father's words and felt the warmth grow in her heart as she held Gabriel's hand. At that moment the old worthy notary entered. The lovers were married and the fathers rejoiced.
A quiet evening was spent for the lovers by the window as they held hands and watched the stars appear. When the curfew bell rang at nine o'clock, Basil and Gabriel returned home. Evangeline, her heart filled with gladness, went to her chamber and gazed at all the woven linen and woolens she had made by hand. These lovingly made items would be her precious dower to take to her husband in marriage. The moonlight filled her room and she retired and fell into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning brought out all the peasants to sunshine and gaiety. It was the day to celebrate the betrothal of Gabriel and Evangeline. All were dressed in their best holiday clothes. All over the village tables were laden with foods, but the most abundant were the tables at Benedict's farm. The feast was outside in the fragrant orchard. Evangeline stood with her father to welcome guests.
Benedict and Basil sat on the shady porch with the priest and the notary. Michael the fiddler played his music as dancers whirled in time to the lively music. Beautiful were all the maidens, Evangeline the fairest of them all. Of all the young handsome men, Gabriel was the most noble. There was no labor on the glorious day, only celebration.
The Bell Tolls
The church bell and the beat of a drum summoned all to gather. The men gathered in the church as the women waited out in the yard by the graves.
The commander of the soldiers stood at the altar to address the villagers:
"You are convened this day," he said, "by his Majesty's orders. Clement and kind has he been; but how you have answered his kindness, Let your own hearts reply! To my natural make and my temper. Painful the task is I do, which to you I know must be grievous.
Yet must I bow and obey, and deliver the will of our monarch; Namely, that all your lands, and dwellings, and cattle of all kinds forfeited be to the crown; and that you yourselves from this province be transported to other lands. God grant you may dwell there ever as faithful subjects, a happy and peaceable people!
Prisoners now I declare you; for such is his Majesty's pleasure!"
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
Basil the blacksmith rose up and with a voice that roared demanded rebellion and death to the tyrants. A soldier quickly struck and dragged Basil to the ground.
At the evening prayer service the priest led the villagers in prayer and song of Ave Maria as they prayed with their hearts and souls to forgive those who had brought sorrow upon them.
Evangeline stood at her father's door, the feast laid out on the table forgotten. She waited, as the sun set, spreading shadows, yet there was a deeper shadow within her spirit.
She went to the church and waited long. All was silent within. She cried out for Gabriel, but there was no answer. Evangeline returned to the house of her father and felt the heavy silence in every room. As she was falling asleep she heard the rain, like a whisper it was. Lightning flashed and the voice of the echoing thunder told her that God was in Heaven and justice will be done. She slept.
The Fifth day
As the sun rose on the fifth day the women of the village, along with their children, took all their belongings down to the beach, where the soldiers loaded it all in boats and rowed out to the ships.
The men were marched out of the church and in a long line were taken down to the beach. The women lined either side of the path to see the faces of their loved ones. Men, women and children began singing and praying together to encourage faith and bravery.
Evangeline saw Gabriel and ran to him, embracing him and each expressing their undying love to each other. Gabriel and his father Basil were taken and put on the ships.
Mothers were taken and loaded on ships as their children stood on the beach crying out for them. Evangeline found her father far back in the line, standing among all his household belongings. Homes and cattle were left behind, no lights in the cottages, no milkmaids to tend to the lowing cattle.
All were on the beach awaiting their fate as night fell and fires were lit. Evangeline sat with her father who was unresponsive, tears of sorrow flowed as they hugged each other for warmth and comfort.
Then the fires from the soldiers consumed the cottages, the homes they had known for so long. The village was destroyed.
Evangeline's father fell to the beach in his terror-stricken sorrow. The priest and daughter knelt down and as the priest lifted the lifeless head of Benedict to bless his soul, Evangeline wailed in sorrow and terror.
All is Gone
Years passed since the upheaval and the burning of the village. All were gone, either dead and left on the beach or taken away on the ships to be scattered in different lands.
Evangeline had long ago begun her journey to find Gabriel. With the help of a priest she travelled on foot, by boat, by wagon, by any means that would take her on the way to Gabriel. She searched every graveyard she came to, looking to find if he had already been laid to rest somewhere and if so, she longed to slumber at his side. She would not give up seeking him, for a voice within always whispered "Despair not!"
She was a traveler, searching for her life, her truths and her beloved. The priest consoled her, told her to look kindly upon other men who were strong and loving and would be a good husband for her. Sadly she would answer: " "I cannot! Whither my heart has gone, there follows my hand, and not elsewhere."
She wandered the lands in need and discomfort, bare feet bleeding, heart laden with sorrow. There were times when she found some people who had seen Gabriel, but he had departed not long before, looking for his beloved.
Evangeline travelled by boat with other lost Acadians, exiles who had met. With her guide, Father Felician, ever by her side they journeyed, stopping at farms to look for kith and kin. Forebodings of evil shrouded the travelers, but Evangeline's heart sustained a vision that called her on in the footsteps of Gabriel. They rested that night a ways off shore, exhausted behind the willow trees along the river.
That night, Gabriel sat on another boat of travellers who were searching. They passed by the boats where Evangeline and her fellow companions were, but did not see them hidden behind the trees.
Evangeline awoke long after Gabriel's boat had passed. She told the priest that she felt Gabriel was near, she knew it in her heart. Or was it only a dream she asked. "Or has an angel passed, and revealed the truth to my spirit?" She blushed and said maybe her words are idle.
The priest kindly replied that her words were not idle nor were they meaningless, for the stirrings in her heart had meaning to him. They rose that day with new hopes.
Always, from gossip they heard, Gabriel was ahead of them - a few weeks, a few days, but always out of reach.
Autumn came then another winter passed and still there was nothing but hope that they would find Gabriel. Thus did the sadness and long years pass. As a young maiden she began her journey. Now she was old. Each year stole more from her. And with all hopes exhausted she finally gave in to the disappointment and knew her search was at an end.
Evangeline's journey ended in the city of Penn where she felt she was no longer an exile, but had found a home. Among the Quakers she was comfortable and sensed the old love and trust the Acadians had in their own village of long ago. Here she stayed.
Mother Catherine McAuley
Sisters of Mercy
Mother Catherine McAuley (1778 - 1841) founded the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1831, in Dublin Irelnd. Membership spread around the world into independent congregations. Their mission was to help the poor, the sick, the dying.
Evangeline Became a Sister of Mercy
Evangeline became a Sister of Mercy and gave aid and comfort to the old, the sick, the dying. This was her calling, she knew, for her heart was in it. The dying would look up to her face and see the gleam of a celestial light that encircled her head as their spirits soared Heavenward.
A pestilence fell upon the city and the homeless, with no one to care for them, found their way to the almshouse where they could at least have a blanket and pillow to die on. Evangeline gathered sweetly scented flowers to take to the almshouse in hopes of giving someone some joy and beauty as they lay waiting for death.
The scent of the flowers and the voices from a short distance away that were singing psalms in a church lay peaceful on her heart and spirit.
As she looked around at the sick to see who was still there and who were now gone, she felt a sense of wonder and a shudder. She cried out in anguish and looked down on the face of an old man. Long and so thin was he, with gray locks where black once grew. He was motionless, senseless, dying.
From the depths of his dying, he heard her cry. He heard the gentle voice of an angel. "Gabriel! O’ my beloved!" She knelt by his side. Then he was once more in the home of his childhood. Tears drifted on his cheek and as he slowly opened his eyes he saw his beloved Evangeline.
He struggled to whisper her name, but no sound came out. She knew the sound that died on his lips was in his heart. She held his head to her bosom and kissed his lips. Sweet was the light of recognition and love that for a few seconds filled his eyes, then he was gone.
All was ended now. No more fear and sorrow, no more aching of heart, no more longing. Once more she pressed his lifeless head to her and whispered, "Father, I thank thee."
Evangeline Finds Gabriel
"Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping.
Under the humble walls of the little Catholic churchyard,
In the heart of the city, they lie, unknown and unnoticed."
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
Evangeline Song in French With Sub-Titles
Note from Author
I have read this epic poem many times and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. With the compassion and deep emotions Longfellow put in his poem, it draws the reader right into the life of Evangeline and all in the story. There is so much more to the poem that I could not put here. It has a powerful effect on those who read it, but none so much as the descendants of Acadians whose ancestors were torn from the homeland.
© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns