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"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"

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Tiana R

on 4 February 2015

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Transcript of "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"

Theme & Symbolism...
The true theme of this poem is the preservation of Black heritage and history by sharing stories of tragedy and triumph.
Poetic Terms...
Disecting the poem....
"The Negro Speaks of Rivers

by Langston Hughes
presentation by Tiana Reneau
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I've known rivers:
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawn were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Langston Hughes...
mixed race; African American, Latino, White, and Native American
raised in Midwest, attended Columbia University and Lincoln University
became one of the most prominent writers during the Harlem Rennasiance; wrote poetry, short stories, novels, musicals, autobiographies, etc.
focused on social issues on race and class, held Socialist political views
Prelude to a Poem...
Written in 1921,"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is considered one of Hughes's most famous poems. He wrote this poem during a train ride from Ohio to Mexico at the young age of 18. He drew his biggest inspiration for the poem while crossing the Mississippi River, and reflected on its beauty and impact on American lives.
the speaker explains how he has "known" rivers, refering to a past life where he has spent a lot of quality time in nature, which is older than humanknd itself
- the speaker suggest that he is wise becuase of his observations of nature and the ancient wilderness
the speaker describes all of the rivers he's "known" in his time, beginning with the Euphrates River in the Middle East. The river was life source for the Ancient Babylonian kingdom, believed to be the beginnings of all human civilization so thats the "when dawns were young". The speaker then mentions living next to the Congo River, the 2nd largest river in Africa that stretches through many countries and tribes, probably in reference to an ancient African civilization. The speaker was a servant in Ancient Eygpt that helped build the epic pyramids and watched the Nile River during that time. Finally the speaker has witnessed the Mississippi River sing when President Abraham Lincoln traveled on it to New Orleans. The Misssissippi River which is usually muddy and murkey becomes golden underneath a sunset, and the reader has witnessed this himself.
this is the most important sentence in the poem, it's repeated twice, it connects the speaker's history with these rivers to his own emotions and soul,saying that he too has grown old, wise but deep as in down, repressed.
the speaker represents the African American/Negro community as a whole, the collective voice and memory of the people
the rivers are the most obvious symbol in the poem, directly being compared to the speakers soul but also being metaphorically compared to history and spirit of Negros, being used by the author as a link between the people and the time period they lived through
-necessity of rivers in ancient and modern civilizations, hidden beauty of the Mississippi related to the use as slave transport
This poem was free verse, so it has follows no rhyme pattern. However, there is rhythm and repetition, the use of the phrase " I've known rivers" at the beginning and create a pattern, and the repeated use of "I" to begin sentences in the 3rd stanza also adds repetition.
Enjambment is also used here, with random spaces between words in sentences forcing the eyes to jump on the page and increasing tempo or intensity of the reading flow.
Diction & Imagery ...
There is one speaker who uses a more casual diction of present conversation, but the tone is more omniscient, resembling storytelling, wisdom and all-knowing
The use of imagery isn't too heavy in this poem, used in describing the more modern references such as the Mississippi River having a "muddy bosom" that turns golden, and the singing from New Orleans.
Works Cited

Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers Summary." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
Hughes, Langston. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers". Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan. New York: Pearson Education, 2014. 554. Print.
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