Langston Hughes Speaks Of Rivers

Langston Hughes

Black History Month happens to start off with the birthday of Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. Born on February 1, 1902, James Mercer Langston Hughes became an important literary figure during the 1920s.

Sometimes when we learn about Black History, or any history for that matter, we can lose sight of the fact that these persons and events were real. Before hearing this audio I had never heard Langston Hughes speak before, let alone read his own poem.

In the video below Hughes reads his own poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and explains how the poem came about.

Environmentalists can divorce the natural world from the history it was a part of. Today the Mississippi is the river where pesticide runoff from Midwestern corn farms ends up. Hughes explains what the Mississippi River was known for earlier on in America’s history, then takes things even further in his poem.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
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.

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