Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882.
Longfellor images

Historical timeline for Longfellow and his works.

Evangeline1849.  This epic poem describes the deportation of the Acadiansand their trek to Louisiana.  Peter Viney explains that The Band’s song Evangeline of course also refers to “Evangeline from the Maritimes”. The facts are stated in a “Prefatory Note” (sic) by Longfellow, and these are as much history as Robertson would have needed:

In the year 1713, Acadia, or as it now named, Nova Scotia, was ceded to Great Britain by the French. The wishes of the inhabitants seem to have been little consulted in the change, and they with great difficulty were induced to take oathes of allegiance to the British government. Some time after this, war having again broken out between the British and French in Canada, the Acadians were accused of having assisted the French, from whom they were descended and connected by many ties of friendship, with provisions and ammunition at the siege of Beau Séjour. Whether the accusation was founded on fact or not, has not been satisfactorily ascertained: the result however was most disastrous for the primitive, simple-minded Acadians [1]. The British government ordered them to be removed from their homes and dispersed throughout the other colonies, at a distance from their much-loved land. This resolution was not communicated to the inhabitants till measures had been matured to carry it into immediate effect: when the British governor of the colony; having issued a summons calling the whole people to a meeting, informed them that their lands, tenements and cattle of all kinds were forfeited to the British crown, that he had orders to remove them in vessels to distant colonies, and that they must remain in custody until their embarkation. [2]

Robertson refers to either “gypsy tales” or “gypsy tailwinds” [3] (lyrics on the site) and Longfellow describes the scene on the shore:

Like to a gypsy camp, or a leaguer after a battle
All escape cut off by sea, and the sentinels near them
Lay encamped for the night the houseless Acadian farmers

… and a few lines later:

But on the shores meanwhile, the evening fires had been kindled
Built of the drift-wood thrown on the sands from wrecks in the tempest

And the departing Acadians watch their village burn from the sea. It’s worth a lengthier quote:

Many a weary year had passed since the burning of Grand-Pré
When on the falling tide the freighted vessels departed
Bearing a nation, with all its household goods, into exile
Exile without an end, and without an example in story
Far asunder, on separate coasts, the Acadians landed
Scattered were they, like flakes of snow, when the wind from the north-east
Strikes aslant through the fogs that darken the banks of Newfoundland
Friendless, homeless, they wandered from city to city
From the cold lakes of the north to the sultry Southern savannas …

Longfellow, whatever his status in poetic fashion, has a rhythm and musicality that has inspired composers. Mike Oldfield once ventured an interesting recording of Hiawatha. Robertson’s friend Neil Diamond also wrote a song called Longfellow Serenade in 1974. [4]

The Jewish Cemetery at Newport, 1852.

The Bells of Christmas Day, 1863
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then peeled the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

―Henry Wadsworth Longfellow