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Poem-The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Poem-The Negro Speaks of Rivers

When he was just seventeen years old, Langston Hughes wrote one of his most popular poems titled “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Notably, this poem became his first poem to be published in a magazine. The term “Negro” is frequently used in the poem because it was acceptable when referring to black people at the time. In the poem, Hughes uses various themes to demonstrate the spirit, voice, and hope of America, but mainly from the perspective of a black person.

In lines eight to ten of the poem, Hughes talks about Abraham Lincoln and the transformation of the Mississippi by the sun’s glow from mud to gold (Baym, Nina, and Robert 5). This is a metaphor for the abolishment of slavery by Lincoln, and the Mississippi turning from mud to gold was the transformation of enslaved people into free men. Besides, the transformation gives an image of change that represents the hope for the future after abolishing slavery (Mane 9). This hope was for equality for everyone in America, which is still a struggle even today, based on race and disabilities, class, ethnicity, religion, sex, and sexuality.

Moreover, in line nine of the poem, Hughes personifies the Mississippi River as a “muddy bosom” (Baym, Nina, and Robert 835). The river is recognized for its muddiness, and the term bosom used to refer to women’s breasts means nurturing. Accordingly, the writer shows the incessantness of the river to the heart-wrenching endurance of black people (Mane 9). Today, America has faced some of the most disastrous situations, from hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and economic crises. However, the country always bounces back and somehow manages to be one of the most powerful countries. The enduring spirit of the American people is just like the muddy bosom.

Lastly, in line five of the poem, Hughes writes the “I” in a mythological eternal voice (Baym, Nina, and Robert 835). This also applies to the American voice. Today, America is not only made of white people; people from all over the world have immigrated there and become citizens. Notably, the American voice compares to the mythic, timeless voice in the poem because it cannot be tied down to one place or time.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. “The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. D: 1914-1945.” (2012).



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How does Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” represent the voice, the spirit, and the hopes of America?

Poem-The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Poem-The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Sources: The Norton Anthology American Literature 9th Edition 1914-1945

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