Aren’t you sometimes struck by a peculiar conjunction of events in your life? This is what’s happening here now:
1. The Olympic Games taking place in Vancouver are wrapping up. Every night we’ve had views of the fantastically beautiful British Columbia.
2. In our current homeschooling block, North American History and Geography, we now happen to be studying Canada, at this moment the Great Expulsion of 1755, when the French residents of Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia) were forcibly removed by the British.
3. We are reading “Evangeline,” the poetic interpretation of that event through the story of two ill-fated lovers, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
4. Today is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s birthday (1807-1882).
Longfellow was born actually not far from the setting of the poem, in Maine when it was still part of Massachusetts. He hoped when still in his teens that his would be a literary path, and it was—professor of languages at Bowdoin and Harvard, translator of Dante, novelist, and, in his day, probably the most popular of American poets. He was admired for his character as well as for his work. Twice widowed tragically and never recovered from his grief, he nevertheless forged on, productive, kindly, modest, and gracious in the face of later artistic criticism.
His poetry is definitely that of another era: strongly rhythmical, musical, metaphorical romantic storytelling with a capital S. You can’t listen to “Paul Revere’s Ride” or “The Song of Hiawatha” or “Evangeline” without being carried away on the current of vivid word-pictures and harmonious sound, and chanting under your breath at odd moments during the day: THIS is the FORest primEVal… It is poetry meant to be read aloud. If you haven’t ever done so, read the opening lines aloud now in your best storytelling voice, and wish Longfellow a Happy Birthday.