Langston Hughes Essay, Research Paper
Triple P s Extra Credit
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes is an amazing epic poem
showing the depth of a person s soul. It actually gave me the chills while reading it. It is
an intimate and personal piece. When I looked up the history of Hughes I felt even more
inspired. He was an African American man who was born in Mississippi in 1902. He
wrote this poem while he was a senior in High School. That is amazing! He became
involved in many racial issues fighting for his culture. The Negro Speaks of Rivers is
just one example of how tremendous of a man Langston Hughes really was. This poem
has deep historical and racial meaning.
The poem is written in first person, by Langston Hughes. Although I do not think
he is only speaking of himself, but on behalf of all African Americans. I think that he is
referring to his race and all of its generations. He is speaking to a general audience. I can
imagine that he is a handsome dark skinned man, wandering around lonely, just
searching for answers. The tone of the poem is very quiet and solemn. It does not change
throughout. The speaker does not change either. The language of the poem really makes
it interesting. For example, this poem relies on a lot of repetition. The three words in the
first line, I ve known rivers: appears throughout the poem three times. Also the third
line, My soul has grown deep like the rivers repeats as the last line of the poem.
Secondly, word choice is also important. For example, I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky
rivers.” The “ancient dusky rivers” can be referring to one of many things. “Dusky”
meaning dark can refer to the color of the African people’s skin. “Dusky” having more of
a grim connotation can refer to the past of African-Americans in a white society. Finally,
“dusky” meaning unclear could refer to the future of African-Americans in this society.
Metaphors are also used. For example, As ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins. Throughout the poem Hughes is comparing himself
and his soul to the river. The meter of the poem is dactylic. The first syllabol is stressed
followed by two unstressed. The style of the poem is free flowing. There is no rhyme
The poem brought many images to mind. I pictured a man walking around a
beautiful river. Also I saw many people in the river using it to bathe and cook. The poem
made me feel sad, ashamed, and inspired. It made me think about how the world once
was and how much society has changed. When I interpreted the poem I found that
Hughes picks a river of signaificance in that particular time period. Beginning with the
Euphrates river through the Mississippi river in that particular time period. The reference
to the Congo River and hut probably refers to African tribes from long ago, some of
which may still exist. The pyramids and Nile River reference is probably that of the
African people working as slaves to build the pyramids for the Egyptian Pharaohs.
Finally, the reference to Abe Lincoln and the Mississippi River deals with the Civil War
and the struggle for freedom of the slaves in the Southern United States. Lincoln’s
determination to end slavery was said to have started when, as a young man, he visited
New Orleans for the first time. This is the narrative of hard times African Americans
This entire poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” by Langston Hughes really
impressed me. I felt as though I was really getting a chance to peek into a tiny part of the
speaker’s soul and could see just how deep it ran. Hughes goes on and on about the rivers
of the world and how they are so vast and deep. Hughes is indirectly expressing how deep
and vast his soul has become throughout his life, a life filled with turmoil and suffering,
even though he probably has not been able to travel the world, as the rivers do.
Associating his soul to the rivers is like letting his soul flow free, like the rivers.