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Amanda (Mandy) Ruth Massingale Professor Heinert American Literature September 29, 2011 In Speaking of the Rivers: The

Grasp of Langston Hughes Poetic Voice A curiosity left in our discussions of Langston Hughes The Negro Speaks of Rivers was proposed; is this poem written in terms of simply African heritage pride, referring to the endured suffering of Africans in the past due to slave trade? I have determined, on my own, that the poem has a greater meaning than just the previous notion, evident in the way he has written this that does more to encompass heritage, as opposed to just the suffering of Africans through history. Ive known rivers: Ive known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. (684 qtd. in. Cain) Essentially what could be considered the first stanza of this free form narrative poem, we find repetition, and what I feel to be a transcendentalist motion here within. Rivers I feel refers to both the flow of human blood but also the notion that time goes past, and nature takes its due course. Rivers, in a sense, could reflect the realization that time goes on, even as lives pass. In realizing this, he is recognizing an old wisdom that accompanies this view as his soul has grown deep like the rivers. In a way, he sees all humans, in no direct reference to any race at all, as coming from the ancient rivers. He talks of all

humans, humans as a species, humans, and their dawn from the early times; we all come from the river. As he has come to know this, the depths of his views of the world have broadened. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and Ive known its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. (684-85 qtd. in. Cain) While his references to African places in this stanza were blatantly evident, going to the southern United States where they were held in slavery, we find his reflection to start at the Euphrates, the Ancient Mesopotamian river where it is said that all humans hail from, despite their more recent heritage. It trails into his heritage; the omniscient I standing for his people, and their past, and referring to earlier in his poem how he says, My soul has grown deep like the rivers in a way of saying he knows where he has come from. He refers to bathing in the early morning hours in the Euphrates, speaking of the early times of humanity, sleeping near the Congo, he refers to the rising of the pyramids, into a golden sunset- a long day having so much done, a history written. The muddy bosom I feel to stand for the innocence of a child suckling from a mother who has come far, who is, perhaps, the earth, showing how his ancestors relied so heavily on the earth to exist in the manner they have. Ive known these rivers: Ancient dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. (685 qtd. in. Cain) I think that the repetition of Ive known these rivers knowing the Ancient dusky rivers refers to not only knowing them, but knowing where his past has been, moving into My soul has grown deep like the rivers meaning he has learned from the past of his heritage, and he knows where he is going, as if to allude to the saying, You need to know where you have been to know where you are going. I think that it is fair to say, rather than singling out just Africans as being his focal point, he refers to the past, his past to exemplify reflection on ones history. Rather than a statement of what he knows about what has already happened, I feel as though he is asking the reader where they come from, where their past is, and where it is that they believe their future lies.

Works Cited Cain, William E. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. American Literature: Volume 2.pp. 684685. New York. 2004. Print.