A Negro Speaks Of Rivers

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Suleman Masood Dr. Karen Kappen English 102 15 November 2014 A Negro Speaks of Rivers Essay Langston Hughes’ poem “A Negro Speaks of Rivers” is an inspiring tale about the historical whereabouts of African Americans. Langston Hughes uses the geographical locations of monumental rivers to describe the progress and hardship of African Americans. Written at the age of seventeen, Hughes gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance with his literary work in 1920. The poem was written on a train, and Hughes dedicated the poem to NAACP founder W. E. B. Du Bois. Hughes credits writers such as Walt Whitman and Carl Sandberg as his influences of the poem and does so through his “voice” in the poem. Many readers may speculate that the speaker in the poem is Langston himself, however, Hughes’ use of free verse poetry and historical contexts of the references in the poem indicates that there is a human speaker per say, but is indicated that the point of view being spoken in the poem may be representation of all African-Americans. Hughes’ recurring theme of using “I” in this poem seems to affirm that he is speaking for the entire African-American race, yet does so in representation of a first-person character. It seems as though Hughes’ portrayal of representing African-Americans is in chronological order, starting with “bathing in the Euphrates” (line 5), where Hughes makes reference to the idea that the Euphrates was the birthplace of human civilization, while ending the poem with a reference to “Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset” (lines 9-10). Langston Hughes is able to achieve representing African-Americans as an entire race through his personal experiences, as well as his historical ... ... middle of paper ... ...logical history of African-Americans. Langston Hughes uses the first person “I” as a way to represent his race and eloquently took the reader to many different depths of history. Langston Hughes took the metaphor of rivers to show the passage of time, and also, that despite suffering, slavery and loss, the Negro race triumphed over all adversity. “Just as the rivers still flow, since the dawn of time, so too has the Black American soul outlasted everything” (Moore). What started out as the beginning of civilization in the Euphrates, and then progressively moving toward the Nile River, ended with the same intuitive people being chained up and forced to withdraw their culture. Hughes doesn’t offer a solution to discrimination, yet points out that although his people suffered, it has matured him, thus the closing line “my soul has grown deep like the rivers” (line 13).

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