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Friday, April 25, 2008

Reader's Diary #351- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Evangeline (FINISHED)


Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tells the story of Evangeline and Gabriel, two engaged Acadians who lost each other during their expulsion from Nova Scotia to the U.S.. It is considered a long poem, though it reads pretty much like a story, except for the line breaks. According to Wikipedia, it's written in dactylic hexameter, though any particular rhythm was completely lost on me, at least at the conscious level.

But poem or not, I enjoyed it a great deal. Longfellow created such atmosphere that I probably would have enjoyed the tale had it been completely void of plot (it wasn't):
Indoors, warm by the widemouthed fireplace, idly the farmer
Sat in his elbow-chair, and watched how the flames and the smoke wreaths
Struggled together like foes in a burning city. Behind him,
Nodding and mocking along the wall, with gestures fantastic,
Darted his own huge shadow, and vanished into the darkness.
I love the situational irony in that particular passage. What a sense of foreboding Longfellow instills with his word choice, all while the farmer sits idly and unaware what is about to befall the Acadians.

Initially, I wasn't overly taken with Evangeline and Gabriel. When Evangeline had passed by, it was "like the ceasing of exquisite music" and "happy was he who might touch her hand or the hem of her garment" And Gabriel, son of the honoured blacksmith, was himself considered "the noblest of all youth." I guess they were the equivalent of the head cheerleader and captain of the football team. Not that I wished ill upon the two, but it's hard to root for someone who seems to have everything going for them anyway. Still, it was perhaps important to build them up to make their story all the more tragic when they lose one another, their homes, their youth, their looks, and their popularity. I did feel for them then. Sad commentary, I guess, that I can only take to liking someone when they're down and out. Still, I wasn't entirely sympathetic: more than a few times I found myself thinking they should just move on with their lives and get over one another already. Romantic that I am. At least the ending is only mildly happy.

The Soundtrack:
1. Acadian Driftwood- The Band
2. Fare Thee Well Love- The Rankin Family
3. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For- U2
4. O Evangeline- Emmylou Harris
5. Baby, Now That I Found You- Alison Krauss

6 comments:

Chris said...

Despite the fact that every yard/library sale or flea market around here has at least one copy of Evangeline for sale, I still haven't read this. I keep adding it to the TBR list but never get around to it. Glad to see that you liked it.

writer2b said...

"Not that I wished ill upon the two, but it's hard to root for someone who seems to have everything going for them anyway." So true! I'd have to plead guilty to the "Move on with your lives, you two" reflex as well.

Thanks for this review. It does justice to the text.

TadMack said...

I have to admit -- I haven't attempted this one before because of the length -- but the language is fantastic, as always.

And you're as big a romantic as I am, I see. Resisting the urge to scream, "Suck it UP!!!" is hardly the right attitude for poetry!

John Mutford said...

Chris: My copy was from a flea market, too.

Writer2b: Glad I'm not alone in those feelings!

Tadmack: I've the first to shun long poems, but as I said above it reads more like a story-- and at only 56 pages, that's not bad for a story.

Sam Houston said...

John, one of my ancestors did "get on with his life" after getting off one of the boats in Baltimore. He never did find his first family and decided a few years later to remarry. He had ten children with his second wife, some born in Baltimore, but most of them born in southwestern Louisiana, "Evangeline" country.

This all eventually led to my paternal grandmother and, thus, to me. I am Cajun on both sides of the family with my own four grandparents only speaking English when those around them didn't understand Cajun French (like me).

I was, however, thankfully raised in Texas and consider myself to be more Texan than Cajun...and always have.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Did Longfellow use any dialogue in his poem? I'm not sure why I am curious about that, but for it to read like a story, it would seem to fit.