Excerpts from Evangeline

My daughter Evangeline’s namesake is the heroine of an Acadian folktale. The story of the Acadian people expelled from their villages in Nova Scotia by the British and the two lovers separated by bayous and time in the southern swamps of Louisiana is now best known through the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I have read this poem nearly every year since I was in high school and I love it. I have three passages marked which I go to more often when I just need a little dose of Evangeline. I thought I would share because, well the world could use some more good poetry.

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From the First Part while the men of the village, obediently gathered in the church, nervously await the orders the British soldiers will bring them. The words of Father Felician:

“What is this that ye do, my children? what madness has seized you?

Forty years of my life have I labored among you, and taught you,

Not in word alone, but in deed, to love one another!

Is this the fruit of my toils, of my vigils and prayers and privations?

Have you so soon forgotten all the lessons of love and forgiveness?

This is the house of the Prince of Peace, and would you profane it

Thus with violent deeds and hearts overflowing with hatred?

Lo! where the crucified Christ from his cross is gazing upon you!

See! in those sorrowful eyes what meekness and holy compassion!

Hark! how those lips still repeat the prayer ‘O Father, forgive them!’

Let us repeat that prayer in the hour when the wicked assail us,

Let us repeat it now, and say, ‘O Father , forgive them!'”

Few were his words of rebuke, but deep in the hearts of his people

Sank they, and sobs of contrition succeeded the passionate outbreak,

While they repeated his prayer, and said, “O Father, forgive them!”

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After years of waiting and hoping to find Gabriel, Evangeline begins to second guess the loving faithfulness she’s shown her love. Again the words of Father Felician:

Thereupon the priest, her friend and father-confessor,

Said, with a smile, “O daughter! thy God thus speaketh within thee!

Talk not of wasted affection, affection never was wasted;

If it enrich not the heart of another, its water, returning

Back to their springs, like the rain, shall fill them full of refreshment;

That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.

Patience; accomplish they labor; accomplish they work of affection!

Sorrow and silence are strong, and patient endurance is godlike.

Therefore accomplish they labor of love till the heart is made godlike,

Purified, strengthened, perfected, and rendered more worthy of heaven!”

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**Spoiler alert** This last passage is from then end when finally Evangeline and Gabriel meet again after some 40 years. This is my go-to passage to read when I need a good cry:

Hot and red on his lips still burned the flush of the fever,

As if life, like the Hebrew, with blood had besprinkled its portals,

That the Angel of Death might see the sign, and pass over.

Motionless, senseless, dying, he lay, and his spirit exhausted

Seemed to be sinking down through infinite depths in the darkness,

Darkness and slumber and death, forever sinking and sinking.

Then through those realms of shade, in multiplied reverberations,

Heard he that cry of pain, and through the hush that succeeded 

Whispered a gentle voice, in accents tender and saint-like.

“Gabriel! O my beloved!” and died away into silence.

Then he beheld, in a dream, once more the home of his childhood;

Green Acadian meadows, with sylvan rivers among them,

Village, and mountain, and woodlands, and, walking under their shadow,

As in the days of her youth,  Evangeline rose in his vision.

Tears came into his eyes and slowly he lifted his eyelids,

Vanished the vision away, but Evangeline knelt by his bedside.

Vainly he strove to whisper her name, for the accents unuttered

Died on his lips, and their motion revealed what his tongue would have spoken.

Vainly he strove to rise; and Evangeline, kneeling beside him,

Kissed his dying lips, and laid his head on her bosom.

Sweet was the light of his eyes; but it suddenly sank into darkness, 

As when a lamp is blown out by a gust of wind at a casement.

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!

And, as she pressed once more the lifeless head to her bosom, 

Meekly she bowed her own, and muttered, “Father, I thank thee!”

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