“The by white Americans. Because Langston Hughes lived

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by
Langston Hughes is a poem in which Hughes links his own past with the past of
the entire black race. Throughout the poem the speaker uses examples that
conclusively prove the historical significance that black people played in
human civilization. The poem uses historical examples and poetic devices to try
and change the way society viewed African-Americans in the early 20th Century. At
the time Langston Hughes wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” African-Americans
were viewed as lesser humans by white Americans. Because Langston Hughes lived
during civil rights struggles and injustices, his poem indicates that being African-American
is something to be proud of.

             Langston Hughes’ poem attempts to unite all
black people under one unified history. The poem is written in first person to
show the personal relationship of the speaker with the history of black people
while addressing black history as a whole. Each example of the poem is specific
and relies on the reader’s understanding and knowledge of history. The
historical context is critical to the poem to show the reader the longevity and
significance of black history. “I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were
young.” (Hughes line 5) is the speaker’s acknowledgement of being along the
Euphrates, which is often said to be the cradle of human civilization. It is
important for Hughes to start the first example off with the beginning of
civilization to show that black people were there. The speaker then mentions
building a hut near the Congo River where proud African kingdoms thrived long
before Europeans. The next part of the poem refers to the Nile and the pyramids
of ancient Egypt. The Egyptian empire is an example of one of the most grand
and sophisticated civilizations in all of history. The speaker then mentions
that “I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New
Orleans,” (8-9) which is in reference to a teenaged Lincoln taking a flat
bottom boat to the largest slave marketplace. It is here that Lincoln got
first-hand knowledge of the racially and culturally segregated South (Campanell). The “singing of the Mississippi”
alludes to the joy of knowing that Abraham Lincoln played a significant role
later in life in abolishing slavery. The poem concludes with the speaker
mentioning that his soul has grown deep like the rivers. This is a very
intelligent way that the speaker links himself as an African-American through history
starting from the beginning of civilization.

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Hughes also uses the poetic devices to highlight the proud heritage of
African-Americans.  Poetry can be utilized as a tool for the
presentation of data describing life histories (Langer & Furman). The
poem uses the imagery of rivers that have been an integral part of human
civilization. Hughes also chooses to use rivers that played a significant role
in black history. The Euphrates, Congo, and Nile rivers are in Africa and the
Mississippi River is in America, all of which have a rich black history. Beyond
just the physical rivers, Hughes does a great job of using imagery to work all
the reader’s senses. An example is the Congo River lulling the speaker to sleep
and the singing of the Mississippi. These are ways that the person relates to
the calmness of some rivers and the rapid movement of others. It is also a nod
to the successes and struggles throughout black history. Hughes likens the soul
of African-Americans to deep rivers. The purpose of the simile is to
acknowledge that the history of African-Americans runs deep in the fabric of
human civilization much like a river does to land. The overarching theme of the
poem is that of pride in being an African-American. While the poem focuses on
rivers, it is clearly about the proud history of African-Americans surrounding
those rivers at various points in history. Hughes’ ultimate goal is to leave
the African-American readers with a sense of pride and to leave all others with
an understanding of the significance of African-American contributions.

Negro Speaks of Rivers” highlights proud and important contributions of
African-Americans. It acknowledges significant historical and cultural sites
throughout the world that are distinctly part of black history. Hughes combined
historical context with poetic devices to provide the reader with thoughts to
change their perspective on the value placed on African-Americans in the early
20th Century. The poem provides concrete proof that African-Americans are equal
to white Americans based on the rich history of the black race. It speaks to
the genesis of pride that all African-Americans should feel within. 


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