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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Langston Hughes's poem The Negro Speaks Of Rivers


  1. fara says:

    The speaker exudes pride.
    His blood flows through him like the water flows through the veins of the earth, his blood is that of slaves, and abolitionists. They have participated and ignited important events throughout time, he is apart of that because of his ancestry and that is something to be proud of. His soul is deep like these rivers, these rivers that have been tended to by his fathers that have ran red with the blood of his fathers.

  2. Bonus says:

    The negro speaks of rivers does not really based on most questions with their answers

  3. Janet says:

    The imagery in this poem is breath-taking. Hughes follows the lineage of his ancestors through rivers, paralleling their history with the free spirit of untamable currents. Likening his soul with that of a river, ever torrential and yearning for freedom. This type of imagery is profound in any case but especially so when aligned with the civil rights movement.

  4. Krista says:

    This poem gives an overwhelming tone of melancholy and sad acceptance. The Negro speaking is describing how his ancestors, his bloodline or better yet his race, (because “I have known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins”) have been enslaved long enough to see the rise and fall of empires, leaders, and monuments. Important as slavery was to the gritty details of such glories, their enslavement was not glorious in any way.
    Hughes jumps around disturbing facts to the moments in a slave s life that he may relish. The words sound peaceful, but I still get the feeling that there is a lot of upset and wise sadness under these lines.

  5. Adam says:

    The rivers seem to symbolize the roots of slavery to ancient civilizations. They also show how expansive it really was, from Egypt to the Congo and even North America.

  6. Kelsey says:

    In this poem Hughes is referring to slavery throughout history. It is something that has unfortunately always been around in different parts of the world and it is something that will be hard to get over.

  7. Margaret says:

    The Nile line seems to refer to the Jewish people who were slaves to the Egyptians and had to raise the pyramids. Rivers are all over the word, as slavery is global as well. For almost as long as there has been humans, there has been slavery.

  8. Negro Sampson says:

    This poem has a simple meaning. Langston Huges tries to depict a sense of emotion and show the trouble african americans had to deal with during the 19th century. African Americans were second class citizens, and at the time of this poem, still were. My using symbolism, Hughes shows the reader that he believes blacks dont have rights (at the time of the poems writing) and he also believes that blacks will never have the same rights as legitimate, all white citizens. I believe Hughes has implemented a feeling of defeat in this poem, displaying his belief that “negros” will perhaps never be treated fairly. They may continue to be turned down at fancy restaurants, whipped publicly and made fun of by white students and teachers, and compared to today (2010) we can clearly see that these ideals continue to be accurate.

  9. Melanie says:

    hey. i have a school report to write and i just wanted to know the connection between “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes and “Much Madness Is Divinest Sense” by Emily Dickinson.

  10. Haylee says:

    wow! what a beautiful poem…just wants to make me smile!! it also touches the heart

  11. Ankit Tejpal says:

    The poem holds a lot in its simplified lines which is perhaps open only for rumination and not layman interpretation.

  12. Lauren says:

    I love this poem.Ive read it many times and i suddeenly realize maybe why Hughes used a river to express his ideas .There are many rivers with different names and they are located all around the world. However, they all dump into the ocean becoming one, so that they are no longer seperate but together.I know this poems is about African Americans struggle through time and their journey.But I also feel Hughes is urging us to come together just as rivers do.We may be different colors, and come from diff. backgrounds but at the core we are all the same.

  13. nabilah says:

    reading this peom made me cry because it is so deep and very inspiring it is the best poem eva. LOVE IT !!

  14. Henry Grant says:

    I think that Hughes is thrying to say that African Americans have been here for along time they were not made yesterday. Because this poem was written buring the Harlem Renaissance and prior to that people thought all black s were stupit and this peom is saying we are brilliant that blacks are smart. Thats why Hughes talks about the pyramids and the Nile river in Africa because those were some of the greatest societeis ever

  15. Robert says:

    I have a comment to add…
    I have to agree with others that this poem covers the history of the black culture. But, the two lines “I looked upon the Nile” and “I heard the singing of the Mississippi” are both seeming to refer to similar events. in both situations, they were slaves, dark skinned property, and they were brought to freedom by people not of their kind. Moses brought the Egyptian slaves to freedom, and Abraham Lincoln brought the American slaves to freedom. in both cases there was a struggle for some years afterward….the two lines “I bathed in the Euphrates” and “I built my hut near the Congo” are both seemingly talking about freedom…let me know what ya’ll think about this (obviously i’m from texas!)

  16. amardeep says:

    according to lanston hughes himself on POETS.ORG, the background of the poem is The poem was written in 1920, just after Hughes came out of high school. He was going to Mexico to visit his father who lived in Mexico City and in the train on the way there, he looked out the window and saw the Mississippi River, just outside of St. Louis. He saw a big muddy river flowing down to the south and thought about its importance to the African American people and how their history was linked to the river. During slavery times, being sold down the Mississippi River was one of the worst things that could happen to you as a slave. Also, Abraham Lincoln once sailed down the Mississippi and was so horrified when he saw the buying and selling of slaves that he never forgot it. He later went on to be the one that signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As the train slowly passed the river, Langston Hughes wrote this poem.

    hope this helps,,, used this on my report

  17. Sara says:

    This is a very deep poem. One of the best written views of feels and accomplishments. I also write poetry, but my stuff is nothing in conparasion with Langston Huges. He is truely a prolific writer.

  18. Imanie says:

    I love this poem because it expresses how black people have been near these famous rivers and how black people can do things white people cant!

  19. Emily says:

    This poem is very inspiring and holds a deep meaning to it. It is one of those poems that you just dont forget and that i will remember!!!!

  20. b says:

    it touches the world’s deepest wounds

  21. Jeffrey Akurang says:

    The negro speaks of rivers is a poem that touches on the various origins of civilisation.The poet expresses his knowledge concernig civlisation in various localities; America,Egypt.He exposes Abraham Lincoln as a key personality who abolished slavery in America, contributing immensely to her Civil growth.

  22. ricahrd says:

    this is the best poem i read in a while and it has inspired me to write potery myself

  23. ricahrd says:

    this is the best poem i read in a while and it has inspired me to write potery myself

  24. Tahn says:

    great poem about the black experience.
    he’s refering Euphrates(Adam and Eve) as if blacks have been here since the civilization.
    Nile and the pyramids—some believe the pyramids were built by black slaves and some say it was the jewish slaves. Abe Lincoln and New Orleans refers to Lincoln’s first witness of slavery and his determination to stop it.

  25. Ms. Tia says:

    I write poetry, And this is one of my favorite poems ever written, The first poem I learned to remeber when I had a drama class in the 5th grade. We had A teacher named Ms. Williams And the main class was The assignment to write poetry and learn to remeber it no student could never remeber any of the poetry she gave us to read and that was the first poem I read and I loved It, I always did love to read and write poetry and Langston Hughes Inspired me and he was one of the greatest and I feel that he needs to be a-knowledge better.I’m 24 years old and I love poerty and I will never ever forget this poem or Langston Hughes.

  26. Brian says:

    I really enjoy poems by Langston Hughes this poem to me is the greatest of all his writings. It shows the depth and continuous cultur of African Americans. Just like the rivers the spirits and culture will continue on.

  27. migdalis rodriguez says:

    I think this poem is the best that I have read. It touchs the most deep of my soul.

  28. jen says:

    this poem was very well writen and was a very good poem and i liked reading it. it was one of the best poems i have read in awhile

  29. Darrell says:

    My Breath was taken!!

  30. Monica says:

    In the negro speaks of rivers what is the imagery, tone of the poem, figurative language or other poetic devices.

  31. JJ Jones says:

    This poem refers to the depth of the Negro(African American) experience and the fact that this ethnic group has been a part of the world from its beginning. Rivers of water flow as deeply as the soul of man. Chronologically, the black man has been a part of history named by each of the rivers-Euphrates, Congo, Nile and Mississippi. The reference to Abe Lincoln’s trip to New Orleans refers to the trip the President took as he sought to wrestle with the evils of slavery.

  32. Mo says:

    I think this poem is xxxxxxxxxtremely well written and it is interesting in its own subtle way.

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