The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

By | November 2011
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Throughout Langston Hughes’ poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” the theme of roots is prominent and this theme gives rise to the ultimate meaning of the poem, even though the word "roots" itself is not used in the text. The textual details of the poem invoke strong imagery related to veins, rivers, and the roots of trees and give the reader a sense of the timelessness of these objects. Furthermore, through his use of language and images, Langston Hughes is able to create two meanings for the theme of roots since on the one hand they refer to the deep roots like trees have as well as “roots” in the historical and familial sense. Through these images and details, the reader begins to understand the complexity of the poem and it is clear that it addresses themes that are much larger than simply rivers or human veins—it is a statement on the whole of African-American history as it has flourished along rivers, which gave life and allowed “human veins” and firm historical roots.

In the short first stanza, the speaker in the poem by Langston Hughes states that he has “known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.” From this early point in the point in the poem, images of the canals of veins that run throughout the human body as well as similar images of rivers that wind around and are shaped like veins form our understanding that this poem is about more than blood or water, it is about roots and circuits. Like veins or rivers, roots run deep and twist irregularly through the medium in which they are planted. The ancient rivers the speaker talks of are like the blood in veins or the roots under trees because they provide sustenance and can give and support life. This is later supported when the speaker discusses early civilizations that thrived off the river system, thus the theme of “roots” has a dual meaning.

Although that will be addressed later in this analysis of "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston...
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