October, Longfellow, and Evangeline

Autumn has finally arrived in New Orleans. Long-awaited cooler temperatures make the month’s obligatory pumpkin patches and Halloween decorations seem less incongruous.

In trying to think of something to write, I did a quick search on “poems about October.” Lo and behold, the first one listed on the site I clicked on was Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. It’s been ages since I’ve read it, and the connection to October was lost on me. Sure enough, the prologue mentions the month by name.

Here’s some information provided by the Internet that I found interesting:

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published Evangeline in 1847. He apparently never visited Nova Scotia or Louisiana, and relied on books to aid his descriptions of the setting.
  • Approximately 11,500 (of 14,000) Acadians were deported from the Maritime provinces during the Expulsion of the Acadians.

And here’s why I care: the name Evangeline is all over southern Louisiana, all because of this poem. It’s the name of a Parish, a racetrack, a state park and an oak tree; among other things. It’s why I didn’t give a second thought to naming a character “Evangeline” in The Incident Under the Overpass. (Tonti’s given name is Evangeline Richard Becnel Schmidt.)

Without further ado, here’s the Prologue to Evangeline:

This is the forest primeval.
The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

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?
Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean
Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pre.

Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman’s devotion,
List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.




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