Literary Edition: Langston Hughes

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by 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.

Langston Hughes wrote this stunning poem when he was only seventeen years old, as he crossed the Mississippi River by train on his way to visit his father in Mexico.

Born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902, Hughes was raised largely by his grandmother. He published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, which included "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", in 1926.

While attending Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (where he was a classmate of Thurgood Marshall) and working odd jobs, Hughes continued to publish poetry which was met with much critical acclaim.

Hughes settled in Harlem, New York as a fulltime writer and became an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

His work is noted for its emphasis on racial consciousness and black pride at a time when many were trying to integrate into mainstream white society. The rhythms of his poetry were inspired by jazz and blues, and his themes by black folk culture, especially the stories his grandmother told him when he was young.

Hughes would go on to write sixteen poetry collections, two novels, three collections of short stories, eleven plays, three autobiographies, children’s books, films scripts, musicals, operas, and many print articles.

He died on May 22, 1967 at the age of 65.

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