This is a long one, so check out the full poem here.
Here we are "in the Acadian land" (20). Before you bust out the your favorite GPS app, check out "In a Nutshell" for the low down on what and where Acadia used to be. The short version? We're on the eastern coast of Canada, during the late 1600s.
More specifically, we're in the delightful farming village of Grand-Pré, which means "Big Meadow" in French.
(That checks out, seeing as how this place was initially colonized by the French. See "In a Nutshell" for the deets.) And wouldn't you know it? It turns out that there is a big meadow nearby, where all the livestock can frolic and munch delicious grass. This place has orchards, full fields of crops—pretty much everything you could ask for in an idyllic farming paradise. Just to the north was the Atlantic coast, too, so these folks could easily head out for a beach vacay anytime they wanted.
It also features sturdy houses with thatched roofs, where women would weave flax and kids stop playing tag so that they can kiss the hand of the passing parish priest. (Those are some well-behaved little rug-rats.) The priest offers "words of affectionate wisdom" (46) and the workers come home at night to a peaceful scene of homefires burning and everybody joining hands and singing "Kumbaya."
Okay, so we made up that last bit, but this place is pretty much a utopia, at least according to our speaker: "the richest was poor, and the poorest lived in abundance" (57).
Next, we learn that a father—Benedict Bellefontaine—and his daughter—Evangeline (ring any bells?)—live nearby. Benedict is 70; Evangeline is 17.
That's quite an age difference, but Benedict is "Hearty and hale" (63)—strong and healthy. He's got the energy to keep up with his daughter.
For her part, Evangeline is beautiful, with brown hair and black eyes. Heck, even her breath smells sweet.
She's more than just a looker, though. She's possessed of "a celestial brightness" (78). We're told that "she walked with God's benediction upon her" (80). She's just the bee's knees, a blessed and beautiful creature.
Evangeline and her dad chill on a well-built homestead, with a view of the nearby ocean and plenty of animals (sheep, turkeys, chickens) to keep them company.
As you might imagine, Evangeline was pretty popular with the local fellas. Lots of them tried to bust a move and spend time with her, but only one of them succeeded: Gabriel Lajeunesse, a son of the local blacksmith.
It turns out that Benedict is pals with Gabriel's dad (Basil). Gabriel and Evangeline grew up and went to school together. They would hang out at Basil's forge, go sledding in winter, search for stones in swallow's nests—you know, typical kid's stuff.
Soon, though, they grew up. Evangeline blossomed into womanhood and was known as "Sunshine of Saint Eulalie." As nicknames go, we can think of a lot worse.
Before we move on, we should make one point about this poem's form: it's written in a meter known as dactylic hexameter. Don't worry about that fancy-schmancy term just yet, though. We dive into that over in our "Form and Meter" section.