Symbolism In Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks Of Rivers”

844 words - 3 pages

Langston Hughes, often given the title "King of the Harlem Renaissance," is known for his social commentary on the Black community as well as black issues. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is no exception. In this poem, Hughes is able to capture the soul of the black community. He uses rivers to symbolize the history, struggle, and perseverance of African Americans. By doing this, he paints a picture of the historical journey that is completely unique to Black America.
From the first line of the poem, Hughes draws a connection between rivers and Black history. He has “known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins” (Hughes). The flow of a river is similar to the blood flowing through the veins of African Americans, their cultural ties as old as the rivers he mentions, their heritage flowing deep in their veins. Rivers have always been around; some have been around for centuries. They have stood the test of time and thus often symbolic of being filled with great wisdom. Rivers are much like the black community, who have also endured for centuries and carry equally profound and powerful wisdom.
Four different rivers are mentioned in this poem: the Euphrates, the Nile, the Congo, and the Mississippi. The Euphrates is located in Western Asia. The Congo and the Nile are both located in western and northern Africa, and the Mississippi resides in the southern United States. In all these areas are Africans, whose history in these places goes back for generations. The narrator states that he “bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young” and " built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep” (Hughes). By using these rivers as symbolism, Hughes skillfully manages to tell the history of Africans, and how our roots are tied to Africa as well as the rest of the world.
The Euphrates is the longest river of Western Asia, and is considered to be one of the most historically important rivers in Asia (Zarins). It is considered to be the cradle of all civilization, back before there was ever such a thing as “black” or “white.” The narrator uses this comparison to show the depth of the Black man‘s soul, never succumbing to racial essentialism, while still acknowledging the existential conditions of black society.
The Congo represents black people’s ties to Africa. The narrator states he builds a home for himself here. This hut is symbolic of what his true home is, which is where he came from. The Congo resides in...

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