The poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers is the first mature and one of the most recognizable poems written by Langston Hughes. The author was inspired to write this poem when he was making a journey by train to visit his father. This poem embraces the themes that the author was exploring during all his life. Hughes aims to illustrate and explain the life of black people in America. His poems attempt to display the history Afro-Americans, their hardships, black identity and racial pride. The purpose of this paper is to with a critical analysis of the poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers and to discover the means that the author uses in order to underline the theme of racial pride in his poem.
The first and certainly the main image of the poem is the image of the rivers. From the very beginning the author states: Ive known rivers (Line 1). He does not name these rivers in the first line to show the multiple experiences that are associated with the rivers in the souls of African Americans. To restate the idea of profound knowledge and experience the author clarifies: Ive known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins (Line 3 and 4). Being the symbol of the past, the rivers are compared with blood that flows in the human body. These lines evoke the thoughts about the history of black people and about their past. Using the image of blood, Hughes attracts the readers attention to such concepts as family and race. The author links people of African race with natural streams that are called the rivers (Smith).
Using the pronoun I the author emphasizes his belonging to the African race. Although, it is quite natural that the author was not able to live in different time periods at the same time, in the subsequent lines he recalls such rivers as the Euphrates, the Congo, and the Nile to show that he is not a mortal speaker, but a voice of the whole race: I bathed in the Euphrates . I built my hut near the CongoI looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it (Lines 5-7). Enumerating these rivers, the author also underlines the dependency of African people on the rivers and their natural and even physical ties with them. Analyzing this poem, Sandra Merriweather claims that Hughes names the most significant rivers of the world to underline the importance of the African and Afro-American presence in the world. She states: The rivers ability to assist with shelter and physical comforts while continuing to ebb and flow parallels the struggles of the African-American race. This statement reinforces the idea that the authors race has a long history of continuous struggles for their rights and dignity (Haralson).
In the lines 8-10, the author remember the Mississippi River and New Orleans connecting them with the period of enslavement when black people were transported using this river to New Orleans where they were bought and sold as an article of trade. The author maintains: Ive seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset, comparing muddy bosom with slavery and golden in the sunset with freedom. Jones indicates that the final lines of the poem restate the ideas of the author being black that are supported with the phrase dusky rivers focusing on the ideas of blackness and darkness (Jones).
To sum up, the poem connects two meanings that were essential in the life of black people: freedom and slavery. In this poem, Hughes stimulates the reader to contemplate the past and the present life of Afro-American people and their complicated identity. Naming the rivers that are extremely important in the history of black people, the author underlines that his soul is both with African and Afro-American people. He belongs to this race and he is not ashamed of it. Pretending to be the voice of the race, he uses the pronoun I that unites him with individuals of African descents.
Haralson, Eric L. Encyclopedia Of American Poetry. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001. Print.
Jones, Sharon Lynette. "Langston Hughes's Transitional Literary Journeys: History, Heritage, and Identity in The Negro Speaks Of Rivers And "Negro". Latch 4 (2011): 74-88. Print.
Smith, Nicole. "Poem Analysis Of The Negro Speaks Of Rivers By Langston Hughes". Articlemyriad.com. N.p., 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
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