derives an inner meaning that asserts that rivers following their ancient paths with constant speed relate to human’s search for identity or progress.
Langston Hughes uses free verse and the rhythm of a preacher to narrate the poem. Notably, Langston Hughes uses the repetition of words and phrases as seen at the beginning of every line. Most specifically, he repeats the word “I” in phrases like “I bathed,” “I looked,” “I built,” and “I heard” (Hughes 1). The repetition helps in deriving emphasis and relating the speaker with the narration. It is also clear that the speaker identifies himself with his ancestors by using different images to depict their historical, religious, and cultural significance (Hughes 1). We can identify the poet’s prowess and intellectual capacity where he relates the new generation with the rest of human civilization. The speaker’s reference to the four ancient rivers and Abe Lincoln presents the connection between the new generation and ancient human civilization (Hughes 1).
In the 1920s, white Americans discriminated and viewed Black Americans as less humans as Hughes presents the aspect of historical equality in the poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers. The term soul in this poem symbolizes the black people, which is their identity (Bernath 10). Moreover, the term river shows that the subject in the poem belongs to a rootless, cosmopolitan identity that is very important, life bringing, and divided but unified in the great sea (Bernath 11). The poet connects the soul and the river to show the continuous journey that African-Americans go through as they seek to establish their identity. Indeed, the connection depicts the movement of the black people around the world, and the unifying experience of displacement where the Blacks belong to an endless and rootless world identity as seen in Euphrates—Western Asia, the Congo and the Nile—Africa, and Mississippi—North America (Bernath 11).
Moreover, the speaker