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. 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. When the speaker says that his soul is deep like the rivers, he is saying that because of this almost organic connection with the earth, he thrives and can understand.
Having recently graduated from high school, he was on a train heading to Mexico City, where he would spend just over a year with his father, a man he barely knew. Louis when inspiration struck: My soul has grown deep like the rivers. 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. While Hughes would one day travel widely and eventually spend significant time in France, Haiti, the former Soviet Union, Netherlands, and Africa, when he wrote this poem he was emerging from a distinctly Midwestern childhood.
He would move to New York City the city with which he would come to be associated to attend Columbia University the year after writing this poem, but at the moment of its composition, it was the landscape of the Midwest that he knew best.
Yet this poem declares itself to be spoken by someone whose knowledge is as ancient as the rivers of which he speaks.
This is not, in other words, the story of a teenager just setting out on a journey across the middle of America.
Louis, crossing the Mississippi as he heads towards Mexico — when we look at it more closely, certain questions arise. Could one actually travel by train from St. Louis to Mexico in ? If so, what route would one take — would Hughes, for example, have been pulling out of St. Louis or pulling into it when he wrote the poem?
And on which side of the Mississippi would he be traveling as he made his way down to Mexico? If I could figure out exactly where Hughes was, maybe I would understand the poem better.
Maybe unsurprisingly, no book or article on Langston Hughes that I consulted and I read many of them! By now, his story is famous, but it turns out that, in our repetition of it, we have totally overlooked its details.
Although I had moments when I wanted to give up on what seemed like a wild goose chase for information that might not affect my reading of this poem in the slightest, I stuck with it, as I have a good amount of experience trying to figure out the most obscure facts about poems and their poets.
This puzzle remains unsolved. Success came from the most unlikely of sources: Well, actually, her father. When I expressed a kind of mild frustration that I might never figure out how he actually got from point A to point B, this particular student asked me if she could text her dad, since she was sure he would know.
One of them included the train schedule for the Missouri Pacific Lines. This particular schedule was fromalthough my source from the railroad says that this line, which is now no longer in use, was up and running in Louisand was crossing over the Mississippi on either the MacArthur or the Merchants Bridge, just before landing in Union Station and boarding the next train.
That next train would take him through, among other places, Bismarck, Poplar Bluff, Little Rock, and Texarkana, keeping him far west of the Mississippi for the rest of his journey south. Knowing this allows me to know two more things: One is that Hughes was not traveling down the Mississippi the way Lincoln is in his poem.
But this is a fiction, as Hughes himself is not that liberator — he is, in fact, heading west, out of what were once border states and into slave states, into land not water upon which some of the worst battles of the Civil War were fought.
Hughes barely knew James N. Hughes, although he had spent some time with him the year prior to the Mexico trip. But maybe more importantly, Hughes and his father held drastically different ideas about race. I think he hated himself, too, for being a Negro.
He disliked all of his family because they were Negroes. It is a message that, he would come to find, poetry was particularly suited to convey. The Mississippi is the only one of the four rivers featured in this poem that Hughes had actually seen. So why these four rivers? If these rivers mean the same thing in this poem — if clustering them in this way culminates in a message — it is unclear exactly what that message is.
The four rivers referenced in this poem reside in three different continents.
Each empties into a different body of water, and each has a clear but different historical and symbolic association for most readers. The Euphrates, which begins in eastern Turkey and flows through Syria and Iraq, and eventually into the Persian Gulf, is the longest river in western Asia.AS LANGSTON HUGHES TELLS IT, he wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (now one of his most famous and widely anthologized poems) when he was just When Langston Hughes was writing "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," he was most influenced by the work of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman.
He particularly cited Whitman's “Song of Myself” as an inspiration for the longer lines in “Negro.” The poem is free verse but has the rhythm of a gospel preacher. Feb 04, · A beautiful presentation of one of Langston Hughes' most moving poems.
Positive Messages The history, and soul, of African-American culture is as ancient and deep moving as the rivers.5/5. By Langston Hughes About this Poet Langston Hughes was first recognized as an important literary figure during the s, a period known as the "Harlem Renaissance" because of the number of emerging black writers.
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a lyric poem. Lyric poetry is rooted in song and establishes the ritual of the human condition, in this case the condition of black people.
More About This Poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers By Langston Hughes About this Poet Langston Hughes was first recognized as an important literary figure during the s, a period known as the "Harlem Renaissance" because of the number of emerging black writers.