The Music of Langston Hughes

The Negro Speaks Of Rivers Poem By Langston Hughes – SATB


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About The Negro Speaks Of Rivers Poem

Langston Hughes was a renowned American poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist who was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural and artistic movement that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is one of his most famous and enduring poems, written when he was just 17 years old in 1920. This poem is a powerful and evocative work that explores the African American experience, identity, and heritage. Here are some key points about Langston Hughes and the poem:

1. Early Life: Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He grew up in various cities and towns, experiencing the racial segregation and discrimination that were prevalent in the United States during that era.

2. Harlem Renaissance: Hughes became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that celebrated African American art, literature, music, and culture. He moved to Harlem, New York City, in the early 1920s and became deeply involved in the artistic and intellectual circles of the Harlem Renaissance.

3. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”: This poem, written in 1920, is a lyrical and metaphorical exploration of the African American experience. Hughes uses the metaphor of rivers to represent the deep and enduring history of African Americans. The poem suggests that the roots of African American culture and identity run as deep as the world’s ancient rivers.

4. Themes: The poem touches on themes of identity, heritage, history, and the interconnectedness of all humanity. It emphasizes the idea that African Americans have a rich and ancient history that should be celebrated and acknowledged.

5. Influences: Hughes was influenced by the works of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg, and you can see their influence in the free verse style and poetic techniques he employs in this poem.

6. Impact: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is considered one of Langston Hughes’s signature works and a classic of African American literature. It has been anthologized in numerous collections of poetry and is frequently studied in literature courses.

Here is the full text of the poem:

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.

This poem continues to be celebrated for its lyrical beauty and its profound exploration of African American history and identity. Langston Hughes’s contributions to American literature and culture are significant, and his work continues to be influential and widely studied.

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The Music of Langston Hughes

Inspired by his messages of justice, freedom, and the hope that a brighter future lies ahead, notable composers and arrangers have beautifully coupled Langston Hughes' passionate words with equally captivating music.

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