Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Evangeline and Other Poems

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I've been trying to read more poetry, last summer I took up The Idylls of the King by Tennyson but this time I was looking for something more American.

Evangeline is the story of an Acadian girl whose village is displaced by the British in 18th century New England. When she and her fiance are boarded on separate boats, arriving in different ports each is left to wander throughout the continent looking for his lost love.

Longfellow's lyric, narrative poems were fabulously popular in his day and into the 20th century--memorized by every school child and recited around hearths a ll over America for decades until he fell out of favor for the likes of Walt Whitman with the onset of post-modernism and deconstruction. Now such poems as "Hiawatha," "The Courtship of Miles Standish," "The Ride of Paul Revere," and "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree" are seen as trite and sentimental--the literary equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting--when they were once considered the backbone of American poetry.

Evangeline is lovely and lyrical and worth the short time it takes to read, if nothing else as a window into what was valued as literature a century ago but more than anything a love story to rival such pairs as Romeo and Juliet, Orpheus and Erydice, or Antony and Cleopatra.

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