1. Follow the links below to watch the videos:
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
2. Locate the poem The Negro*Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes. (The poem is in the chapter Inference in your textbook, or can be easily located by searching the internet.)
3. Read and annotate the poem. (You are not required to turn in your annotations.)
4. Answer the following questions about the poem. If a question has more than one part, be sure to answer all the parts. Please use Standard English, grammar and spelling, and write in complete sentences.
Who does I in the poem refer to? (Hint: The poet is not speaking about just himself.)
What are the four rivers named, and why were these rivers chosen by the poet? (Hint: The answer to this question relates to the previous question.)
Why does the poet use the word known (Ive known rivers) instead of seen? (Hint: This question is open to interpretation. Any answer that makes sense in the context is correct.)
When the poet says, My soul has grown deep like the rivers, what does he mean? What kind of figurative language is he using? (Hint: Types of figurative language are explained in the textbook chapter you just read.)
When the poet says, Ive seen its (the Mississippi Rivers) bosom turn all golden in the sunset, what type of figurative language is he using? What does this line from the poem mean?
What is the unstated main idea of the poem? (Hint: To find the main idea, ask yourself, Who and/or what is this poem about (the topic,) and what is the most important thing the poet wants me to know about the topic?
5. Run a spell check on your answers to the questions above and submit them to the link below, or through Assessments; Assignments.
Module 6 Assignment 1
*Negro was the ethnic group label that Black Americans chose for themselves during the time that this poem was written. At that time the word did not carry a negative connotation.The Negro Speaks of Rivers is one of Hughess earliest poems and is considered to mark the beginning of his career as a poet. Sandra Merriweather in the Encyclopedia of American Poetry considered the poem to be one of Hughess best works, and it has been described as his signature poem.:?183? However, it has also been described as one of his most uncharacteristic poems.:?41? The work is one of his most famous poems. The professor Ira Dworkin described the poem as an iconic representative of Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. Upon publication, it delighted black traditionalists, who appreciated the poems message. Hughess poems The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Mother to Son, and Harlem were described in the Encyclopedia of African-American Writing as anthems of black America.
The poem utilizes a river as a metaphor for Hughess life and the broader African-American experience. It does not rhyme and uses lines, particularly repetition of My soul has grown deep like the rivers to say that, according to the professor Christopher C. De Santis, experience and history, though often oppressive, have not extinguished but rather emboldened the development of a soul, the birth of an immortal self, the proud I that now speaks to all who will listen. That line also alludes to W. E. B. Du Bois, who wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. Hughes dedicated the whole poem to Du Bois when he republished it in The Weary Blues. The dedication came at the urging of Fauset and was not included in subsequent reprintings.:?275?:?620?
Hughes wrote the poem while the Great Migration, a movement of African Americans out of the Southern United States and into Northern cities like Chicago, was ongoing. William Hogan, a scholar, places Hughess poem in the context of this vast uprooting of population, noting that it recognizes the need for a new kind of rootedness, one that embraced a history of migration and resettlement.:?188? Hogan argues that by connecting communities of color across both space and time, Hughes is developing a theory of racial community which draws strength from migration and change. The many routes historically taken by black culture only strengthen the roots of the community.:?187188?
The scholar Allan Burns feels that the poem is written from the perspective of a soul or consciousness of black people in general rather than Hughes himself. Burns also notes the progression of rivers through the poem from the Euphrates to the Mississippi follows a chronology of history from the Garden of Eden [. . .] to modern America. By describing the muddy bosom of the river turning golden in the sunset, Hughes provides a note of hope that Burns equates to the phrase per aspera ad astra (through suffering to the stars).:?221? Hughes himself had not traveled widely when he wrote the poem.
The scholar W. Jason Miller considers the poem was an anti-lynching work, noting that Hughes lived during an era where he would have been impacted by lynchings, particularly after the Red Summer of 1919, when numerous blacks were attacked and killed by whites. Miller notes that Hughes was probably intimidated as he traveled by himself to visit his father in Mexico, passing through Texas, where numerous lynchings occurred. Miller goes on to argue that Hughes used the poem to provide reassurance that because others have survived, he and his readers can survive too. Although the poem is titled with a verb in the present tense (Speaks), the actual text focuses on the past (Ive). Miller feels that this shows Hughes defining rivers as part of a natural realm needing to be reclaimed as a site that African Americans have known and should now know.
In his early writing, including The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Hughes was inspired by American poet Carl Sandburg.:?169? Rachel Blau DuPlessis argues that part of the poem reinterprets Vachel Lindsays The Congo, by portraying the Congo River as a pastoral nourishing, maternal setting. Hughes references the spiritual Deep River in the line My soul has grown deep like the rivers. The poem was also influenced by Walt Whitman.
Impact and legacy
Hughess ashes are interred under a cosmogram medallion in the foyer of the Arthur Schomburg Center in Harlem
The poem has been cited as becoming the voice of the Association [NAACP] itself, along with Song of the Son by Jean Toomer and editorials that Du Bois wrote. One of Hughess most reprinted works,:?188? the poem had been reprinted at least 11 times within a decade of its first publication, including in the 1925 anthology The New Negro, the 1927 work Caroling Dusk, and Hughess own The Dream Keeper in 1932.:?130?
After Hughes died on May 22, 1967, his ashes were interred in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem under a cosmogram that was inspired by The Negro Speaks of Rivers. The cosmogram is entitled Rivers and was designed by Houston Conwill. In the center of the cosmogram is the line: My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Pearl Primus, a dance choreographer, developed a work based on the poem.
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