Analysis and Interpretation of Langston Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
Unfortunately, themes of racism and prejudice seem to be all too common when one thinks of American history. These negative connotations stem from the United States involvement in slavery and then issues with African-American civil rights that reached an apex in the 1950s and 1960s. Still, these historical issues still affect by many Americans today. An example of this cultural situation in America, and how it has affected African Americans, can be found in Langston Hughes' poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." The poem is a self stated eulogy regarding an African American's feelings about his self and his ancestry, and how this rich ancient heritage exists within himself and all other modern African descended individuals. This paper analyzes and interprets "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" in an attempt to understand what Langston Hughes was trying to convey in the poem.
A strong theme throughout Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is the theme of Negro pride and the connection through heritage. Hughes utilized passionate words, historical scenes, and the idea of life-bringing rivers to invoke the theme of pride and ancestral connection of individuals of African descent. Each scene Hughes utilizes are rich and invoke pride, honor, and nobility, except for the final scene which is during the emancipation of African-Americans in the U.S. This gives the reader a sense of the importance of African heritage to civilization, describing areas of elevated importance, the Euphrates river in Mesopotamia, the pyramids of Egypt, but ends with the modern issues of African discrimination in talking of Abe Lincoln and Mississippi. The historical scenes in the poem possess robust imagery of rivers, cultures of history, and blood in veins, all portray a sense of the eternal and enduring forces in the world. Hughes made a point that Negro culture is undying and timeless, rich due to its connection to the past. The theme of the poem is brought about by comparing ancestry and the blood in the veins to the deep rivers that have and will always flow. Thus, the poem ends up a statement regarding African history and the history of individuals of African descent, which was once rich and vital to the world, yet in more recent times individuals of African descent had to deal with issues such as discrimination and slavery. Yet, Hughes poem points to the fact that this history, including the diversity the people have had to endure, has strengthened the soul of the people, making it deep as the rivers that connect them all. In fact, after reading through the piece one has an idea that those of African descent possess wisdom and the ability to persevere and overcoming the odds due to their experience.
Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" seems to fit into two major genres of poetry, as it is an ode to his ancestry, yet fits into the diversity genre as well. Given that the poem points to the rich ancestral heritage those of African descent possess, it is evident the poem's purpose was to inject pride in other African-Americans, as well as inform and enlighten others with pointing out the history of the Negro people. In this way Hughes was ahead of his time, as he wrote the poem in 1921, thirty years before the unfolding of the American Civil Rights Movement. According to Southern African-American author Margaret Walker Alexander, Langston Hughes was at the forefront of the during the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and cultural movement during the 1920s that spawned an upsurge of African American literature and ideas (Alexander 54). This genre of poetry helped create a cultural movement of Negro and African pride, one that still is going strong in modern society.
The versification in Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" stays true to the theme of the poem in that it uses strong and passionate words, has a cyclic structure as does the life cycle of...