There is an Acadian essay that begins with the sentence, Evangéline porte mal la mini-jupe (Evangeline wears a miniskirt poorly). She is the essence of holiness, you see, sanctified, what one would want the Acadians to be. The chosen people. Evangeline's white face is untouchable in the same way a magnolia bud is untouchable. You wouldn't want it to darken, be stained with the grime on your hands, the very filth of your skin-oil.
In Longfellow's poem, he shows the Acadians to be martyrs. All you Greek scholars will know that μαρτυρ or μαρτυρος does not mean to be persecuted, but to give witness. I wonder what the Acadians give witness to? What does Evangeline give witness to? Note this passage in the French translation:
Parfois elle venait, se croyant sans témoin,
Faible et lasse, s'asseoir au fond d'un cimitière.
(Sometimes she came, considering herself without witness,
weak and weary, to sit on the graveyard floor. [my translation])
This sentiment is not exactly the same in the original, which is:
Sometimes in the churchyards strayed, and gazed on the crosses and tombstones.
This admittedly is not Longfellow's finest verse. The difference is striking because the French version, which essentially brought about the renaissance acadienne in the 19th century, portrays Evangeline in despair. She is in despair because she looks only toward the past.
But it makes fine poetry, doesn't it, looking toward the past? This is the nostalgia of art, the regression I spoke of, passéisme. What else can we do in art?
I propose to force Evangeline into a miniskirt. I don't hide the fact that my poems are not about making anyone chaste. Maybe decadence is the only way to treat art. The realists sullied the delicious curves of Ingres. The impressionists distorted even these raw images. The modernists fragmented what was impressionistic. We've reached a point where it seems all art has been made or written. This is not true.
There will always be depravity and sentimentality. This is my currency. Art and literature has become too safe once again, obsessed with its own irony, its own cleverness. I deal only in the marginalia of relationships, torn papers kept to remember that lovers were once together, sexual awakening, liminality, the presence of the divine not trapped but freed in the confines of dirt and flesh. And so this is my Evangeline--a symbol of dolorous and ecstatic and shameful love, the passéisme of love. That is my μαρτυρια, my witness.