Study Guide

Evangeline Memory and the Past

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Memory and the Past

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,—
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven? (7-11)

Right from the jump, our speaker is remembering for us. In this case, he has a picture of Acadia that is long gone, one filled with happy farmers and cheerful animals. This is not a picture of what's happening in the present, but the speaker's connection to this past is what sets us up for the story that follows.

'Whither my heart has gone, there follows my hand, and not elsewhere.
For when the heart goes before, like a lamp, and illumines the pathway,
Many things are made clear, that else lie hidden in darkness.' (714-716)

Here, Evangeline is remarking about how the past for her is a guide. Sure, she may be delusionally wandering over half the country in search of a husband who may, or may not, still be alive. Yet, at the same time, her connection to her past life with him gives her life focus. Can you blame her for keeping his memory going?

But Evangeline's heart was sustained by a vision, that faintly
Floated before her eyes, and beckoned her on through the moonlight.
It was the thought of her brain that assumed the shape of a phantom.
Through those shadowy aisles had Gabriel wandered before her,
And every stroke of the oar now brought him nearer and nearer. (785-789)

We get these moments throughout the poem. The image of Gabriel wanders into Evangeline's mind, connecting her to the past and reminding her of her purpose. She just can't shake his memory, for better and for worse.

Silent at times, then singing familiar Canadian boat-songs,
Such as they sang of old on their own Acadian rivers, (801-802)

Hey, Louisiana has rivers—just like Acadia did. These villagers remember how things used to be, and they stay connected to that past via their boat-songs. (We're not sure how many songs you can write about a boat, but we'd be game to listen to a few.)

'Long live Michael,' they cried, 'our brave Acadian minstrel!' (964)

Michael is living like a rock star in the Acadians' new home. We think that it's more than just his fiddle-playing that makes him so popular. By representing all the songs of the old country, he provides a tangible (well, audible) connection to the past—and the villagers love him for it.

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