The Negro Speaks of Rivers

by Langston Hughes

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What is a critical appreciation of the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"?

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Much critical analysis of Hughes' poem lies in how there is a fusion of history and the experience of the individual.   Hughes does an exemplary job of being able to link together the essence of how history and Africans parallel one another.  When discussing what it means to be African- American, Hughes draws the connection between and to history.  In this assertion, one can see that the speaking of rivers and of identity is rooted in historical consciousness, the idea that who one is today is a part of what one's background has been.  This link between one's present state and one's own history occupies a great deal of importance in Hughes, the poem, and the appreciation of it.  On another level, there is much in the poem to suggest the immortality of the soul and to link the idea that what is endured today is a part of a larger configuration or design.  This has much in way of relevance to African- Americans for Hughes.

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Analyze the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes.

epollock's comments are very good, especially the opening focus on "human" history, not only African American history.

This poem really interests me because it seems at once both racially specific and non-specific. Most readers have no trouble seeing the racially specific elements: the speaker in the poem is "The Negro" and the references to the Mississippi and Abe Lincoln can be read as allusions to the enslavement of African Americans in the American South.

Fewer readers seem to pick up on the non-specific elements. The Euphrates is not closely connected to African American history, for example, and the Nile also has a tenuous connection. (There are widely held beliefs, not always easy to prove or disprove, among many African Americans that ancient Egypt was ruled by black African leaders.) The repeated use of the word "human" may work against a race-specific reading, as may the colors in the poem: "muddy," "golden," and "dusky" are more varied than "black."

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