The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes – Analysis

grayscale photo of person wearing hat and coat holding photo

I’ve known rivers:
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.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
Went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
Bosom turns all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers. 

Langston Hughes: Introduction

Langston Hughes was one of the many talented Afro-American poets of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He embraced Afro-American Jazz rhythms and was one of the first black writers to attempt to make a profitable career out of his writing.

Title of the Poem: “Speaks of Rivers”

Because rivers have been flowing without a stop ever since time immemorial. They are ancient and deep. So he as an Afro-American shares qualities with well-known rivers. His heritage and tradition date back to ancient times. He has deep roots in history and therefore he should be proud of his distinctive culture and tradition because like the river, it is older than the flow of human blood in human veins. Note the repetition of human twice to stress the point that his race cannot be excluded from the human race at large. Also, note his repetition of the growth and depth of his soul like the depth of rivers.

Choosing Rivers

He chooses well-known figures from Iraq (Euphrates), from Africa (the Congo and the Nile), and the United States of America (the Mississippi River) to give his poem (The Negro Speaks of Rivers) a universal appeal. Once more he wants to say that his African tradition will endure and deepen like the great rivers of the world. The poem, therefore, embraces his African – and universal heritage – in a grand epic catalog.
Here is another poem by Hughes entitled: “I, Too”.

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