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Longfellow Kept Alive The Story Of Acadian Exile

The sad saga of the Acadian exile was all but forgotten until Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard a story about two lovers who had been separated at the time of the expulsion. He retold the story in his epic poem Evangeline. His is a fictional account, telling the story of two young lovers from the Acadian settlement of St. Gabriel. But Longfellow's poetic license condensed and romanticized the story of the dispersion in such a way that it captured the American imagination and empathy. Here are excerpts from the long poem in which the poet describes the Acadians' last days in their ancestral homeland.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pleasantly rose next morn the sun on the village of Grand-Pré.

Pleasantly gleamed in the soft, sweet air the Basin of Minas,

Where the ships, with their wavering shadows, were riding at anchor.

Life had long been astir in the village, and clamorous labor

Knocked with its hundred hands at the golden gates of the morning.

Now from the country around, from the farms and neighboring hamlets,

Came in their holiday dresses the blithe Acadian peasants.

Many a glad good morrow and jocund laugh from the young folk

Made the bright air brighter, as up from the numerous meadows,

Where no path could be seen but the track of wheels in the greensward,

Group after group appeared, and joined, or passed on the highway.

Long ere noon, in the village all sounds of labor were silenced.

Thronged were the streets with people; and noisy groups at the house-doors

Sat in the cheerful sun, and rejoiced and gossiped together.

So passed the morning away. And lo! with a summons sonorous

Sounded the bell from its tower, and over the meadows a drum beat.

Thronged erelong was the church with men. Without, in the churchyard,

Waited the women. They stood by the graves, and hung on the headstones

Garlands of autumn-leaves and evergreens fresh from the forest.

Then came the guard from the ships, and marching proudly among them

Entered the sacred portal. With loud and dissonant clangor

Echoed the sound of their brazen drums from ceiling and casement,

Echoed a moment only, and slowly the ponderous portal

Closed, and in silence the crowd awaited the will of the soldiers.

Then uprose their commander, and spake from the steps of the altar,

Holding aloft in his hands, with its seals, the royal commission.

"You are convened this day," he said, "by his Majesty's orders.

Clement and kind has he been; but how you have answered his kindness,

Let your own hearts reply! To my natural make and my temper

Painful the task is I do, which to you I know must be grievous.

Yet must I bow and obey, and deliver the will of our monarch;

Namely, that all your lands, and dwellings, and cattle of all kinds

Forfeited be to the crown; and that you yourselves from this province

Be transported to other lands. God grant you may dwell there

Ever as faithful subjects, a happy and peaceable people!

Prisoners now I declare you; for such is his Majesty's pleasure!"

As, when the air is serene in the sultry solstice of summer,

Suddenly gathers a storm, and the deadly sling of the hailstones

Beats down the farmer's corn in the field and shatters his windows,

Hiding the sun, and strewing the ground with thatch from the house-roofs,

Bellowing fly the herds, and seek to break their enclosures;

So on the hearts of the people descended the words of the speaker.

Silent a moment they stood in speechless wonder, and then rose

Louder and ever louder a wail of sorrow and anger,

And, by one impulse moved, they madly rushed to the door-way.

Vain was the hope of escape; and cries and fierce imprecations

Rang through the house of prayer;

Meanwhile had spread in the village the tidings of ill, and on all sides

Wandered, wailing, from house to house the women and children.

Four times the sun had risen and set; and now on the fifth day

Cheerily called the cock to the sleeping maids of the farm-house.

Soon o'er the yellow fields, in silent and mournful procession,

Came from the neighboring hamlets and farms the Acadian women,

Driving in ponderous wains their household goods to the sea-shore,

Pausing and looking back to gaze once more on their dwellings,

Ere they were shut from sight by the winding road and the woodland.

Close at their sides their children ran, and urged on the oxen,

While in their little hands they clasped some fragments of playthings.

Thus to the Gaspereau's mouth they hurried; and there on the sea-beach

Piled in confusion lay the household goods of the peasants.

All day long between the shore and the ships did the boats ply;

All day long the wains came laboring down from the village.

Late in the afternoon, when the sun was near to his setting,

Echoed far o'er the fields came the roll of drums from the churchyard.

Thither the women and children thronged. On a sudden the church-doors

Opened, and forth came the guard, and marching in gloomy procession

Followed the long-imprisoned, but patient, Acadian farmers.

Even as pilgrims, who journey afar from their homes and their country,

Sing as they go, and in singing forget they are weary and wayworn,

So with songs on their lips the Acadian peasants descended

Down from the church to the shore, amid their wives and their daughters.

Foremost the young men came; and, raising together their voices,

Sang they with tremulous lips a chant of the Catholic Missions:--

"Sacred heart of the Saviour! O inexhaustible fountain!

Fill our hearts this day with strength and submission and patience!"

Then the old men, as they marched, and the women that stood by the wayside

Joined in the sacred psalm, and the birds in the sunshine above them

Mingled their notes therewith, like voices of spirits departed.

Thus to the Gaspereau's mouth moved on that mournful procession.

There disorder prevailed, and the tumult and stir of embarking.

Busily plied the freighted boats; and in the confusion

Wives were torn from their husbands, and mothers, too late, saw their children

Left on the land, extending their arms, with wildest entreaties.

Suddenly rose from the south a light, as in autumn the blood-red

Moon climbs the crystal walls of heaven, and o'er the horizon

Titan-like stretches its hundred hands upon mountain and meadow,

Seizing the rocks and the rivers, and piling huge shadows together.

Broader and ever broader it gleamed on the roofs of the village,

Gleamed on the sky and the sea, and the ships that lay in the roadstead.

Columns of shining smoke uprose, and flashes of flame were

Thrust through their folds and withdrawn, like the quivering hands of a martyr.

Then as the wind seized the gleeds and the burning thatch, and, uplifting,

Whirled them aloft through the air, at once from a hundred house-tops

Started the sheeted smoke with flashes of flame intermingled.

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!"

Loud on a sudden the cocks began to crow in the farm-yards,

Thinking the day had dawned; and anon the lowing of cattle

Came on the evening breeze, by the barking of dogs interrupted.

Solemnly answered the sea, and mingled its roar with the dirges.

'Twas the returning tide, that afar from the waste of the ocean,

With the first dawn of the day, came heaving and hurrying landward.

Then recommenced once more the stir and noise of embarking;

And with the ebb of the tide the ships sailed out of the harbor,

Leaving behind them the dead on the shore, and the village in ruins.