The Negro Speaks Of Rivers Literary Devices

In English literature, it is a famous poem written by a very well known writer i.e. Langston Hughes. The poet is considered a honour figure of the Harlem Renaissance. The poem was penned when Hughes was eighteen years old. It is the reflection of his high skills and contains artistic style and thematic concentration. Hughes wrote this poem when he was crossing the Mississippi River on the train. He become inspired of the view and his thoughts on the African-American soul and experience. The poem is an extreme reflection on the historical and spiritual journey of African-Americans. The writer uses the rivers as a powerful symbol of continuity and tolerance.

Themes in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

I- Historical Continuity and Ancestral Heritage


The poem has a number of fundamental themes, particularly the theme of historical continuity, as symbolized through the fast flowing rivers.

The famous rivers like the Nile, the Euphrates, the Congo and the Mississippi inspire Hughes use of their inevitable enduring spirit and unwearied resilience to describe the continuous struggle of black people and their history.

These rivers that run through centuries of African-American history symbolize the powerful connections and strength of this community, which undergoes through challenging times.

II- Identity and Self-Awareness


Identity and the self-awareness are among the examples that the writer looks into by merging the speaker’s growth to the enduring flow of the rivers.

The poem addresses a group identity that is old and fresh. It emphasizes the depth and inner essence of the American-African cultural identity.

This identity mainly concentrates on how the two are interlinked as it explores a shared human experience with the uniqueness imparted by the specific endowment of the Black perspective.

III- Unity and Connection


The poem not only depicts the themes of union and bond but also ties these messages together from the depths of the story to the general human story.

In a chain like this that connects African-Americans through rivers that span the planet and different cultures, he emphasizes the interrelatedness of human existence, leaving a hint that African-American has always been an integral part of the human story.

The rivers have been used as a metaphor, that shows the continuity of the life.

IV- Spiritual Depth and Resilience

The poem also talks about spiritual dimension and persistence of the African-American society.

The soul’s growth and profound depth throughout the text is affected by these imperturbable old rivers; an association that alludes to the extraordinary spiritual and emotional toughness that has enabled African-Americans to withstand and surpass daunting obstacles.

The river, anonymous but persistent, bestow on the people’s story its symbol of a soul not clayed by history but which grows from it.

Literary Devices used in the negro speaks of rivers

1- Symbolism

“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.”

In this excerpt, the symbolism in shape of the rivers has been used to represent the African-American experience.

Throughout the poem, the writer uses two different concepts- rivers (both ancient and ever-existing) and human blood that flow- to illustrate a detailed similarity and fork between history, nature, and human life.

2- Metaphor

“I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.”

The author uses a metaphor to compare his own experiences with that of the Euphrates whose history is lost in antiquity and never-ending.

The phrase “when dawns were young” can be understood like that of the era of beginnings, fresh and youthful-days.

It denotes the speaker’s interaction with the river date back-to-the beginning of the civilization.

To bathe in the Euphrates, a river bank that gave birth to one of the ancient civilizations, is symbolization of washing with a fresh history of human kind or an immersion of what the first of the ancient society was.

The image implied in this metaphor reaches beyond a worldly tie and encompasses a spiritual, historical, as well as ancestral oneness with the past, thus affirming the everlasting and continuous bond between humanity and the beginnings of humankind.

3- Personification

“The Mississippi sang when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.”

This stanza of the poem is noteworthy. The writer utilizes the poetic device imagery by personifying the Mississippi River and giving it human characters like singing and a “muddy bosom”.

The Mississippi River impelled like a poet, keeps in rhythm with the works of Abraham Lincoln to convey the idea that the Mississippi, like a creative artist, is participating in historical events.”

This act of personification infuse the river with a voice, and persona, seeming, as a witness of American events.

The last line “golden in the sunset” further personifies the river, which seemingly possesses a heart and soul that responds emotionally to its environment.

By employing personification, this symbolic involvement between the river and the experiences of the African Americans becomes deeper, the way the grit of the river earth echoes the role that the river has played in their history.

4- Allusion

“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.”

The poet uses allusion by referring to figures of speech such as the names of well known rivers and historical events associated with them, which in turn widens the scope and expands richness of the content theme.

The “Euphrates” hints toward the existence of a primeval civilization existing in the area that is now known as Mesopotamia.

This reflects a connection between the author and the very human history. “The `Congo’ is a recurring subtitle that takes on the meaning of the central river and the cultural significance of the entire continent.”

In such references as the “Nile” and the creation of the pyramids one can touched with the extraordinary ancient Egyptian civilization, which is one of the supreme masterpieces of African history.

5- Consonance

“I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.”

The phrase is used to describe in different way with an echoing ‘l’ sound, “built”, “lulled,” “sleep.”

Such repetition of ‘l’ sound triggers the feeling of drowsiness and is really quite curative. It is as sweetly comforting as the plot is.

The sound simulates the calming influence of the river, which enhances the visual appeal of being entranced by the current rival to the rhythm of the nearby flow.

6- Repetition

“I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.”

The opening stanza introduces one of the many literary tools Langston Hughes capitalizes on in a clause that rhymes “I’ve known rivers”.

The phrase has been repeated to point out certain significant meanings. It first establishes an underlying rhythmic structure that guides the reader into the poem through a lyrical and almost music filled piece.

The repetition further adds to the intensity felt by the speaker alongside the rivers, hence the sign of their great relation that is ancient and deep.

These repeating lines assert that the speaker knows rivers quite well serve not only to depict a person who has intimate knowledge of nearby water bodies but who also are connected metaphorically with the flow of time or human life.

This repetition also suggests the immortal wisdom and the indelible African- Americans united spirit, which is endowed by the nature and history of the land they live in.

7- Imagery

“I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.”

The line is an appealing vision, which has been created by comparing the highness of Nile River to a pyramid i.e. the symbol of Egypt.

In his description, the writer really captured the wonderful sight which consists of the beautiful stone structures that rebounds the flowing river.

Historically and culturally relevant imagery is not only vivid but also very well narrative.

8- Anaphora

“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.”


The sequence of the lines highlights the effectiveness of anaphora, wherein the words “I” and “has” are repeated (“bathed,” “built,” “looks upon”).

It establishes a sharp and vivid rhythm. Most of the initial sentences have clarifying words that help one to appreciate the connection between the speaker and some historical and geographical locations.

It is these regular patterns that give the poem a lyrical rhythm as well as a deeper and wider revelation of how these rivers not only develop civilizations but are also essential parts of the speaker’s connection to them.

9- Hyperbole

“The Mississippi sang when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.”

In this phrase, the writer relies on hyperbole by giving credits to the Mississippi River for its singing.

This poetic style and the generation of the exaggeration convey the perception that the river is more than a regular body of water, rather, it is an active, lively character capable of creating melodies.

The hyperbole draws in the strong emotional undertones and the unambiguous historical mark of Mississippi River, more specifically in the context of President Abraham Lincoln’s travels to New Orleans during that time of uncertainties, where he has to deal with the slavery issue and the outstanding questions about the South.

10- Synecdoche

“I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.”

Here, the poet employs the synecdoche i.e. “the pyramids”. It refers to the whole of the civilization of ancient Egypt.

Hughes uses one of the stylistic devices composers to convey the ideas and feelings. The pyramids as structures that are quite unique are specific symbols of ancient Egyptian culture, construction, and the pinnacle of civilization.

Through his identification of the pyramids, the author conjures up the universal panorama of one of the most ancient and the most coveted cultures in the world.

See also: Literary Devices in Sonny’s Blues

The Negro Speaks Of Rivers Literary Devices
The Negro Speaks Of Rivers Literary Devices

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