The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

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Summary

In the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" Langston Hughes takes readers on a journey through the deep, ancient roots of Africans and black people across the African diaspora. The speaker compares his soul to the deep and ancient rivers of the Euphrates, Nile, and Mississippi. Through this, he traces his, and all African-descendent people's, roots to the ancient and beautifully deep cultures of Africa. The speaker connects his soul with that of his homeland as well as the land of the US.

He speaks of the dawn of human beings in Africa through speaking of "bathing in the Euphrates when dawns were young." He speaks of freedom in Africa through the peaceful and content building of a home by the Congo River. He references the forced journey of Africans to America through the slave trade and the subsequent struggle for freedom by referencing the Mississippi River's singing as emancipation spread through the south. Hughes connects the souls of black Americans with the soul of Africa.

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is perhaps Hughes’s most anthologized poem. Written in the first-person voice, the poem begins, “I’ve known rivers.” The “I” is a collective voice of black people from ancient times (3000 b.c.e.) to the present. The narrator’s voice speaks of bathing in the Euphrates, building a hut near the Congo, raising pyramids by the Nile, and watching the sun set on the Mississippi. The refrain, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” links the movement and endurance and power of the great rivers to black history.

The repeated “I,” beginning seven of the ten lines, focuses the reader on the narrator, the black person who speaks of rivers, and on the effects of the tie between his history and the rivers.

In Hughes’s autobiography The Big...

(The entire section is 467 words.)