“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes: The Poem Theme

The questions of the origin of life and the roots of humanity have long interested many people. In the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” Langston Hughes meditates on the very essence of the origin of human life on earth along with the origin or roots of the other phenomena of the planet. Generally, the theme of the poem can be characterized as meditating on eternal issues connected to the origin of life and the origin of everything existing on earth.

The poem under consideration in the following paper can be described as the one featuring deep philosophic ideas related to the origin of life and the other important phenomena on the planet. The author explains their desire to create a piece of literature addressing such deep existential questions by the background of the circumstances when the poem was created. He tells that one day as he was on a train ride to Mexico he began to think about life, his origin, and the related issues. Hughes was observing the river of Mississippi and meditating on its beauty. This made him inspired to create an opus dedicated to the matters of existence and the roots of everything around us. The author is very young here; he is in his tenths and by the moment of creating the poem he has just graduated from high school. That is why similar to all the young people he is so concerned by the sense of living.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” poem is the first-person narrated poem. The main character meditates about the things seen in his life. The poem does not reveal too much information about its narrator; it only addresses him as a “Negro”. The entire opus is quite laconic featuring only 13 lines consisting of 3 verses. The author does not seem to aim to be diligent about the stanza patterns; thus, the poem can be hardly described as a poem. However, a lot of work is put into creating a special philosophic mood adding to the theme of the work.

Discussing the elements forming the theme of the poem, it should be mentioned that they are quite many. First of all, the poem begins with a few simple words which are full of meaning: “I’ve known rivers” (Hughes par.1). This phrase by the narrator implicates that he is a worldly-wise and experienced person having a piece of knowledge to share with the audience. Further, the narrator elaborates on the deep sources of wisdom and knowledge. This conclusion can be made from the phrase “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins” (Hughes par.3). The next significant phase is “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (Hughes par.5). The phrase has a special place in the poem; it stands alone separated from the rest of the stanzas. This suggests its special meaning for the understanding of the rest of the poem. Here the author addresses one’s rueful feelings developed inside his very soul as a result of meditation of eternal beauty of the planet along with its rivers. He explains that such meditations made him full of important ideas related to the essence of existence. The next part of the poem which reveals a lot of important information related to its topic is the part where the narration is again changed for the first person. Here the author states that he experienced the waters of the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mississippi. Of course, that mentioning cannot be understood literary. It seems that this the author wants to emphasize that he has drowned his wisdom from a variety of ancient and reliable sources compared to the main rivers on earth related to the very origin of humanity. Thus, the author wants to highlight the significance of his philosophic findings.

The other important issue addressed in the poem is connected to hardships in the life of black people during the period of poem creation which is the 1920s and 1930s. This period is considered to be one of the most heated during the history of the struggle against racial discrimination and intolerance. The poem alludes to celebrating the history of the black experience many times. And these allusions appeared to be very successful as this poem became one of Hughes’ best-known poems and was acclaimed by the unofficial poet award “the Harlem Renaissance”.

Concluding on all the information related above, it should be mentioned that the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” written by Langston Hughes can be acclaimed as a philosophic piece of literature addressing such important themes as the very essence of human genesis and the origin or roots of everything surrounding a human being in the universe. The themes of the poem are also significantly related to the experience of black people and their right to equality.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. n. d. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Web.

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