The Negro Speaks of Rivers Poetry Explication

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POETRY EXPLICATION While on a 1920 train ride to Mexico, Langston Hughes spilled his thoughts upon the back of an envelope. One year later, the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in the Crisis Magazine in 1921.(Shmoop Editorial Team) Inspired by the golden Mississippi River in the sunset, Hughes wrote the poem in less than 20 minutes. In 1926, he dedicated the poem to W. E. B. Du Bois in his book, The Weary Blues.(Rampersad, Arnold) The poem is about four rivers that are symbolized as the prideful ancestral history of the African American narrator who is speaking to any 20-21st century audience. Additionally, the poem describes how every person in the world, specifically the segregated African Americans of the 20th century, has a story to their culture and origins that should be respected. By using persistent symbolism, meaningful line breaks, and by avoiding a lighthearted rhyme scheme, Langston Hughes is able to display the seriousness and value of one’s past. First, how form and structure are used to enhance the meaning of the poem and further relate to the symbolism of the four rivers. Hughes free versed this poem, although it is the lack of rhyme that contributed by keeping a serious tone that usually seems to be replaced by a lighthearted tone when rhyme is used. Rhythm is the key in this poem with the nearly excessive repetition of words and phrases. Nearly every line of the poem starts with a first person pronoun such as “I’ve” in lines one, two, and eleven, “My” in lines three and thirteen, and “I” in lines five through eight. The rhythmic sound created by this refrain creates the feel of a steady, beating river, which contributes to the feel of the poem by simulating the thoughts of the narrator. Additionally, the very look of the lines upon a sheet of paper creates a river effect. If the poem is looked at omitting the third stanza, the

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