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The Negro Speaks of Rivers by (Langston Hughes) - Essay Example

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In this poem, 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers', the poet, Langston Hughes uses a voice that speaks for all people of his race, defining the history, heritage and civilization of all Black people of African origin or descent. He takes the four great rivers that have long been connected to the development of human civilization and links them to the African American, or Negro experience…
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The Negro Speaks of Rivers by (Langston Hughes)
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Marquita L. Franklin Maryniak English 1102 December 2007 Analysis of 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers' by Langston Hughes, 1921 In this poem, 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers', the poet, Langston Hughes uses a voice that speaks for all people of his race, defining the history, heritage and civilization of all Black people of African origin or descent. He takes the four great rivers that have long been connected to the development of human civilization and links them to the African American, or Negro experience. In order to show this, he takes us back in time, with this powerful metaphorical poem, and forward to the more recent days of slavery and abolition. The second to fourth lines declare his intent and his feelings, with a wise and majestic tone
"I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers." (l. 2-4)
So he begins to tell of his people's history, and how much they contributed, suffered and survived. The 'I' who "bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young" (l. 5), who
"built my hut near the Congo", (l. 6), who "looked upon the Nile and raised the
pyramids above it" (l. 7) and who "heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans," (l. 8) represents all Black people. Their presence and contributions to the development of civilization is ancient and timeless, like the rivers.
I found this poem to be powerful and moving, and it made me feel joyous and uplifted, yet humbled by what it portrayed. I felt that Hughes was rightfully proud of his race, that he understood the importance of his ancestors and that for him, history was a testament to the strength of his people. The opening line "I've known rivers", is so simple, but when repeated and added to in the words that follow, gathers and sends a powerful message. Rivers are the lifeblood of the planet, and he links that idea to humanity with "flow of blood in human veins" (l. 3). By joining body and soul: "My soul has grown deep like the rivers" ( l. 5 and 13), he expressed the truth about all of us. We are all body and soul. But he is stating that the Black soul has withstood much and held fast to wisdom and strength. With the repetition of the words "I've known rivers/Ancient, dusky rivers, (l. 11-12) he brings to life the dark skin of his people and there is pride in the depth of his and their souls at the end of the poem. It is full of vibrant imagery and has the musical tones of a song, or a Negro spiritual.
He used the metaphor of the rivers to say that despite suffering, slavery and loss, the Negro race have withstood all adversity. Just as the rivers have lasted, strong and wise since the dawn of time, so too has the Black African American soul. I believe there was a tone of triumph and promise in the words: "I've seen it's muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset." (l. 9-10), as the muddy Mississippi changed with the coming of freedom.
The poem also made me feel sad to think that this hope and power, despite such wisdom and proof of the worth of the African American, has not been fully realized, so many years later. Langston Hughes dedicated the poem to the historian and activist, W. E. B. Du Bois, and wrote it when only 17 years old, yet it shows a deep soul and a wise mind, full of ancient wisdom. I would be happy to stand beside such a man.
Work Cited
Hughes, Langston. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. English 1102, Compositions and
Modern English 11 (8th Ed.). Boston, Mass. Pearson Custom Publishing.
Custom Edition for Troy University. 2007. 461-462
Blau DuPlessis, R. Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American
Poetry, 1908-1943. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 2001
McMahan, D., Day, S. X. and Funk, R. Literature and the Writing Process. (7th Ed)
New Jersey. Prentice Hall. 2004
The Art and Language of Langston Hughes. Kentucky. The University Press of
Kentucky. 1989 Read More
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