Study Guide

Evangeline Sound Check

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sound Check

When you're dealing with a poem this long, you're bound to encounter some sound effects somewhere, right? Why, yes—yes you will. So pop in your poetry ear buds and join us for the audio tour of "Evangeline."

First stop: consonance, population… well, lots. There are countless examples of this sonic technique in the poem, but here are just a couple of examples:

Under the boughs of Wachita willows, that grew by the margin,
Safely their boat was moored; and scattered about on the greensward,
Tired with their midnight toil, the weary travellers slumbered.
(816-818)

Dig all those W, S, and T sounds in these three lines. At this point in our story, the weary Acadians have been row-row-rowing their boat through the night. It's time for some peaceful slumber. The echo of the consonant sounds through these lines creates a soothing, subtle chime that adds to the peace these travellers must feel at finally being able to rest.

What's that you say? You want more? We got more:

Sounds of psalms, that were sung by the Swedes in their church at Wicaco.
Soft as descending wings fell the calm of the hour on her spirit:
Something within her said, 'At length thy trials are ended;'
(1328-1330)

In addition to the S consonance here, we get S alliteration. All those S's create a soft, soothing sound that helps to set the stage for Evangeline's (very brief) reunion with Gabriel. Once again, Longfellow's sound stylings are at work to subtly underscore what's going on in the poem's narrative.

Finally, there are less subtle sonic echoes in this poem, which appear in the form of anaphora. The technique really comes to the fore at the poem's end. For example:

All was ended now, the hope, and the fear, and the sorrow,
All the aching of heart, the restless, unsatisfied longing,
All the dull, deep pain, and constant anguish of patience!
(1376-1378)

Notice all those "All"s being repeated? And just a few lines later we get:

Thousands of throbbing hearts, where theirs are at rest and forever,
Thousands of aching brains, where theirs no longer are busy,
Thousands of toiling hands, where theirs have ceased from their labors,
Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed their journey.
(1386-1389)

So what's up with this? Did Longfellow just run out of ways to start lines at the end of this long poem? More likely, as things draw to a close, as the poor and tortured Evangeline realizes her sad fate, this anaphora highlights the drama of the climax. The word echoes here, much like the sound echoes of the alliteration and consonance, catch the reader's ear and emphasize even more the action unfolding on the page.

This concludes the audio portion of our tour, Shmoopers.