The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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Langston Hughes, dated to 1919 or 1920

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is a poem by American writer Langston Hughes.


I've known rivers:
I've 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.

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 I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Composition and publication history[edit]

According to Hughes, the poem was written while he was 17 and on a train crossing the Mississippi River on the way to visit his father in Mexico in 1920.[1][2] Twenty years after its publication, Hughes suggested the poem be turned into a Hollywood film, but the project never went forward.[3]:305


In his early writing, including "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", Hughes was inspired by American poet Carl Sandburg.[4][5]:169

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller, R. Baxter. "(James) Langston Hughes." American Poets, 1880-1945: Second Series. Ed. Peter Quartermain. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 48. Literature Resource Center. Web. Accessed on 23 August 2013.
  2. ^ Socarides, Alexandra (1 August 2013). "The Poems (We Think) We Know: 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers' by Langston Hughes". Los Angeles Review of Books. Accessed 23 August 2013.
  3. ^ Berry, Faith (1992), Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem, New York: Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-1307-1 .
  4. ^ Tracy, Steven Carl (2001), Langston Hughes and the Blues, University of Illinois Press, p. 142, ISBN 0-252-06985-4 .
  5. ^ Ikonné, Chidi (1981), From DuBois to Van Vechten: The Early New Negro Literature, 1903–1926, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, ISBN 0-313-22496-X .

External links[edit]