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] Like many of Hughes's other writings, the poem depicts an African-American who recognizes and reaffirms his connection to Africa and uses that African heritage as a source of pride.[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]