Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie

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IN THE Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas,
Distant, secluded, still, the little village of Grand-Pré
Lay in the fruitful valley. Vast meadows stretched to the eastward,
Giving the village its name, and pasture to flocks without number.
Dikes, that the hands of the farmers had raised with labor incessant,
Shut out the turbulent tides; but at stated seasons the flood-gates
Opened, and welcomed the sea to wander at will o’er the meadows.
West and south there were fields of flax, and orchards and corn-fields
Spreading afar and unfenced o’er the plain; and away to the northward
Blomidon rose, and the forests old, and aloft on the mountains
Sea-fogs pitched their tents, and mists from the mighty Atlantic
Looked on the happy valley, but ne’er from their station descended.
There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1847.

Evangeline was “the” poem that put Nova Scotia on the tourist map, although it took a few decades (and a steamship, and a railroad) for the hordes to show up in earnest. The sort of literary tourism that grew up from the poem was rooted in the romance (and tragedy) of the story, but was also inspired by Longfellow’s descriptions of the Annapolis Valley landscape. His “forest primeval” stuff is, in my opinion, a little excessive – the Acadian forest habitat is hardly dark and gloomy, and it really has the most adorable chipmunks – but it was the contrast between the forbidding nature and the Acadian’s edenic, pastoral paradise, that really seemed to get the tourist’s attention. And when it comes to the pastoral and the picturesque, I’m just as guilty as those early tourists; the Grand Pré area is still very beautiful.

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Can we hold Longfellow to account for any inaccuracies of landscape depicted in his poem? After all, he never actually saw the place, except for in his mind’s eye. Longfellow used two primary sources for his poem, the Abbé Guillaume Raynal (1770) and one of our best intellectuals, Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton, whose 1829 History of Nova Scotia provided a description of the surrounding area and the view of Blomidon which made its way into the poem.

The images from this post are taken from an 1850 edition of the poem, available here at Google Books.

Literary Landscapes will be a recurring feature of this blog. If you have any books or excerpts about Nova Scotia’s landscape that you think I should include, feel free to drop me a comment or email.

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