This Is the Forest Primeval

June 25th, 2011

Practically the last book I read before leaving for California earlier this month wasn’t a book at all. It was a slim volume containing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s immortal poem, Evangeline.

Evangeline Illustration

Evangeline tells the sad tale of the Acadian expulsion of 1755, when the prosperous French settlers were turned out of Canada by their new British rulers and forced to sail down the Mississippi river to their eventual home in Louisiana. I’ve long reserved a soft spot for the Acadians, ever since I sewed and wore an Acadian folk costume for my fifth grade social studies project (yes, I’ve always been like this). But this was the first time I thought to read Evangeline. It was on sale for 50 cents at Housing Works; how could I resist?

Considered by some to be Longfellow’s most famous poem (sorry Elaine), Evangeline was written in 1847. That’s less than 100 years after the historical event that inspired it! Oh, for the civilized era when tragic events were commemorated by epic poetry rather than made-for-TV documentaries. Sure, I don’t know much more about the actual facts of the expulsion, or the political machinations that were its cause. But my sympathy has been stirred to a depth that film footage with a suave voice-over could never touch. And in the end, that’s really what matters.

And yes, I cried. If you wish to know what tickled my ducts, well, you’ll just have to read the poem and find out for yourself.

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