Analysis of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

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Analysis of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a poem written by Langston Hughes that discusses on negritude as well as the African themes and culture. Hughes is among the most famous and influential writers of the 20th century of the African-American origin. Therefore he is regarded as the Harlem Renaissance trailblazer because of how he wrote his poems regarding African-Americans. He composed “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” while he was on a boat on Mississippi River going to visit his father who lived in Mexico during that period (Trotman). The poem depicts the author’s extensive knowledge of African history and some of the major problems facing it. Hughes composed the poem when racism was predominant in the United States, and the African-Americans were fighting for their freedom. Therefore, as a result, the author wrote inscribed “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” due to extreme racism in the United States. He wanted to empower, restore dignity and give confidence to the black individuals (Hughes, p.6). Therefore Hughes used the metaphor of rivers as a way of showing the time passage and that despite the suffering of the African-Americans, the Negro community succeeded at the end in the same way as the river flows from one point to another.

Moreover, Hughes intended to provide them with the courage to fight for their rights and hence stop the racial segregation and other injustices that discriminated them. While interpreting the poem literally, it is about rivers. However, it seems to have some deeper meaning rather than just talking about the existence of rivers, and thus the reader starts to comprehend its complexity. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the author has used several literary elements to discuss his themes and to address the restoration of the history and the rich culture that the black people had lost as a result of extreme segregation, social injustices, and slavery.

To begin with, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” is composed in the first person narrative. For example the use of “I” in most instances it is describing the African-American people as well as their mutual voices for the liberty. Moreover, the author uses anaphora, and the poem is composed in free verse. The use of free verse indicates that the author lacks a specific set structure in his writing. The poem is composed in a manner of accentuating both the flow and the rhythm of concepts that Hughes wishes to highlight. In the poem setting, anaphora indicates the recurrence of the first word in every line of the poem. For example, there are several cases of recurrence of words like “I looked,” ”I heard,” and “I saw” (Hughes) throughout the poem. Hughes also uses several types of common literary elements for example repetition. This is depicted for example in more than one lines of the poem, for instance, “I’ve known rivers” in lines one and also in line ten. Therefore the use of anaphora and repetition enhances a critical connotation to the poem.

The author embraces long lines and repetition of some words in the poem as the elements to display the Whiteman’s influence. The existence of the extended free verse lines in several instances of the poetry signifies the author’s attempt to incorporate the world through his own words. The repetition of several phrases more so makes it sound look like an incantation. Furthermore, Hughes choice to use the African-American forms of music like the blues and Jazz in his poetry makes him be an exceptional poet. There is also several cases of enjambment throughout “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Several lines tend to be cut off abruptly. Therefore this makes it hard for the readers to hunt for the following thought at the start of the resulting line. The reader’s eyes tend to shift and move intermittently while reading the poem. For example in line 8 going on to line 10 (Hughes, p.11). The lines are indented. The poem’s refrain tends to be “I’ve known rivers,” and it is as a result of its repletion in several lines.

An example of a literary device element that Hughes applies in the poem is connotation. The connotation of the word “The Negro” has been used to illustrate African-American pride. For example, the term “Negro” is used in the Title of the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” to demonstrate how individuals’ are saying about rivers besides how they are meaningfully talking about them as the essence of the civilization (Hughes). It poses a hidden meaning of addressing the white people that even though they took their people and subjected them into slavery, they have their own history and practices that need to be respected. Therefore the use of connotation is significant in this poem, and it is evident that Hughes has extensively utilized it.

Hughes has also used personification in the poem to depict the courage as well as the pride that the black Americans possesses. An excellent instance where he uses personification is when he says that he washed in the River Euphrates when “the dawns were young” (Hughes, p.8). His articulations of the dawns being young demonstrate that the African Americans have existed since the emergence of human beings. Moreover, it shows that they have been a part of contemporary civilization as from its creation. The personification under this context indicates that African-Americans resembles other races like the whites who segregated and enslaved them. It also shows the need for them to be proud of their culture and refuse to be bullied and intimidated because of their race.

Other than personification, Hughes another literally device that he uses is similes. The author seems to apply it in this work to bring the issue of self-importance to African-Americans. For example when he says that his soul has grown deeper like the rivers. By saying this, he meant that the African-Americans have developed to become more knowledgeable and sensible just “like the rivers.” The Rivers Nile, Euphrates and also Mississippi symbolizes freedom, civilization, and strength and therefore, Hughes likening of their souls to rivers suggests that they are resilient, mighty and honored similarly to the rivers.

In conclusion, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a lyric poem that is composed in free verse as evident in the above discussion. The poem is in rich of poetic elements like repetition, anaphora and long lines to make it sound well and be useful to pass the intended message. Instead of using a constant rhythm in the poem, the author chooses to have a pattern of flowing words and phrases that eventually break off. Moreover, the author uses several literary elements to enrich his piece of writing as well as to empower, give courage and self-importance to the African-Americans. He uses this poem also to make them stand up against the issues of racial segregation. Hughes also uses the rivers as a metaphor to place the African culture to greater heights and to term it as crucial as the rivers.

Works Cited

Hill, Jordan. “The Harlem Renaissance.” (2018).

Hughes, Langston. The Negro speaks of rivers. Disney Jump at the Sun Books, 2009.

Trotman, C. James. Langston Hughes: the man, his art, and his continuing influence. Routledge, 2014.