Study Guide

Evangeline Suffering

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Meanwhile had spread in the village the tidings of ill, and on all sides
Wandered, wailing, from house to house the women and children. (487-488)

The first rumors of the English takeover are starting to spread through the village. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Many more hard times are on the horizon for these poor Acadians.

These things beheld in dismay the crowd on the shore and on shipboard.
Speechless at first they stood, then cried aloud in their anguish,
'We shall behold no more our homes in the village of Grand-Pré!' (624-626)

Yeah… nothing says suffering quite like standing on a beach, watching your whole village go up in flames. This is the last time these poor villagers will ever see their home.

MANY a weary year had passed since the burning of Grand-Pré,
When on the falling tide the freighted vessels departed,
Bearing a nation, with all its household gods, into exile,
Exile without an end, and without an example in story. (666-669)

Our speaker wants us to know that nobody's suffered like this poor Acadians have. You think you have it rough? These folks' exile has created strife that's beyond compare, and Evangeline's story is made all the more tragic as a result.

Sorrow and silence are strong, and patient endurance is godlike.
Therefore accomplish thy labor of love, till the heart is made godlike,
Purified, strengthened, perfected, and rendered more worthy of heaven!' (724-726)

All this suffering makes us wish we had a silver lining lying around somewhere. Luckily, the Father Felician has one in his back pocket: Evangeline's suffering is going to make her a better person, more likely to get in the E-Z Pass lane to heaven. At least she's got that going for her.

Thus did that poor soul wander in want and cheerless discomfort,
Bleeding, barefooted, over the shards and thorns of existence. (731-732)

Ouch—the painful imagery of walking on shards of glass really does a lot to communicate how poor Evangeline has suffered in life. We wouldn't want to be in her shoes—er, bare feet.

Gabriel was it, who, weary with waiting, unhappy and restless,
Sought in the Western wilds oblivion of self and of sorrow. (834-835)

You think Evangeline's cornered the suffering market? Think again—Gabriel's not exactly whooping it up in the meantime. In fact, his suffering leads him to escape into the wilderness to try to find some solace. Ironically, that moves him farther away from his true love, Evangeline.

Much Evangeline wept at the tale, and to know that another
Hapless heart like her own had loved and had been disappointed.
Moved to the depths of her soul by pity and woman's compassion,
Yet in her sorrow pleased that one who had suffered was near her,
She in turn related her love and all its disasters. (1132-1136)

Evangeline's run-in with the Shawnee woman (we never get her name, sadly enough) is an interesting episode in this tale. The woman is a widow, Evangeline is separated from her husband, and so the two of them bond through their suffering. As the saying goes, "Misery loves company," so they're glad that they can suffer together instead of alone.

Thus many years she lived as a Sister of Mercy, frequenting
Lonely and wretched roofs in the crowded lanes of the city,
Where distress and want concealed themselves from the sunlight,
Where disease and sorrow in garrets languished neglected. (1288-1291)

What do you make of Evangeline's career move here? We think it makes a certain kind of sense. After all, she's pretty much an expert at suffering by the time she gets to Philadelphia. It makes sense to us that she would join the Sisters of Mercy and try to help others cope with their own suffering in turn.

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