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Hoo-ey! We guar-on-tee dis heyah poem gone make you eyeballs leak fo sho, mon cherie!
Forgive our bad Cajun accent, Shmoopers, but if we can't bust that out for "Evangeline," we don't know when we can. This poem celebrates the history of a people that today are associated with Louisiana bayous and crawfish boils (mmm, mudbugs). But did you know that they started out letting the bon temps rouler up in… Canada?
If you didn't, don't blame our man Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He published "Evangeline" back in 1847. This epic, book-length poem was an instant smash hit. Some thought it was Longfellow's crowning achievement. It tells the story of poor Evangeline Bellefontaine, a sweet and beautiful farmer's daughter who is betrothed to Gabriel Lajeunesse, the handsome son of the local blacksmith. Unfortunately for Evangeline and Gabriel (and all of their friends and neighbors), they just happen to live in Acadia.
What's Acadia, you ask? Well, even if you didn't ask, we're happy to tell you that it was a French colony on the northeastern Atlantic coast of Canada (the colonists called it "Acadie"). Today, it's known as Nova Scotia, which is where the problem for our young couple comes in. You see, it became "Nova Scotia" only after English troops rolled up to Acadia and took it over by force, starting in 1710. The French colonists were caught up in this struggle and, essentially, were made homeless once the English moved in. The former Acadians were scattered near and far in their search for a new home, with a group of them ending up in Louisiana. (Say "Acadian" three times fast, mix in a French and Southern accent, and you'll start to hear "Cajun.")
Longfellow tells this story through the tragic love story of Evangeline and Gabriel, who are kept apart by political forces beyond their control. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll get a craving for the nearest Popeye's. Okay, so mainly you'll just cry. This poem lends both an epic and a tragic quality to the story of these evicted colonists (who, to be fair, did their own share of evicting the local Native Canadian population first—something that Longfellow doesn't quite get around to in this poem). Our poor heroine Evangeline has one whale of a sob story, though. If you have warm blood in your veins, you'll definitely need to keep a box of Kleenex nearby when you read this one.
Let's face it: life can be tough. We know that's not breaking news to you or anything. The question remains, though: "What can we do about it?" Life can give any of us a sucker punch to the gut—at any time. And then, when we're bent over, it can throw us a wicked boot to the backside for good measure. So, what can we do when the fickle winds of fate blow our hats off our heads?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Evangeline" has an idea. Through the course of this (very) long poem, we see Evangeline, our protagonist, lose: her house, her farm, her possessions, her father, and—worst of all—her soon-to-be husband. She's basically left with nothing, zip, zero, zilch and yet… she keeps going. We don't know about you, but we find that pretty impressive. There are plenty of things that happen to her in this poem that would make us sit right down in the middle of the road and never get back up again.
But not Evangeline—she keeps moving forward, sustained by an unshakable faith and that most universal of motivations: love. Not once does she give up on her love for Gabriel, and that sustains her through all her trials and tribulations. Now, this poem may not have the happiest ending ever written, but we do think that there is something to be said for Evangeline's model: be true to the thing you love most in the world, and you can do pretty much anything. We'd say that's a life lesson worth caring about, wouldn't you?
Enjoy a nice bio and some links to his work.
Poetry Foundation's Take
Still hungry for more Longfellow life and lit? Then click no further.
The Maine Historical Society
Longfellow was a native Mainer (Maine-ian? Maine-iac?). This website stays true to his roots.
Here's a brief video biography about our man Henry.
Check out this mini-lecture on the expulsion of the Acadians.
Say listen, did you ever wonder what Michael's fiddling would have sounded like? Here's one version.
"Evangeline," the Audiobook
Listen away to the full text here.
"Evangeline," the… Other Audiobook
Don't like the first reader's voice? You have options.
Check out Librivox's audio recording, too.
Longfellow, with Dog
You know that phenomenon where people start to resemble their pets? Just sayin'…
Evangeline, the Monument
This statue in St. Martinville, Louisiana commemorates our heroine, and the expulsion of the Acadians.
Here's our guy—in stamp form. Notice the subtle reference to his "Paul Revere's Ride."
"Longfellow's Evangeline: The Birth and Acceptance of a Legend"
This article puts Longfellow's poem into some historical context.
"The Legend of Evangeline"
Here's a bit more on the poem's origins and reception.
Looking to add this poem to your collection? Then look no further.
Complete Poetical Works
If you liked "Evangeline," then dive right in.
Evangeline, the Movie
Check out the 1929 film version. It looks… dramatic.