Harlem Renaissance Poets

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Harlem Renaissance Poets

Harlem Renaissance Poets


The Harlem Renaissance was the revival of the art of the United States during the 1920's and early 1930's led by the community of African Americans living in Harlem, New York. Although sometimes said to include the entire upper Manhattan, traditionally Harlem is bounded on the south East 96th Street, where the path of the railroad tracks emerging from the tunnel under Park Avenue, next to Central Park, the west by Morningside Heights at 125th Street to the Hudson River, north on 155th Street, and on the east by the East River (Huggins, 2007).

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is Langston Hughes's most anthologized poem. Hughes wrote this brief poem in fifteen minutes in July, 1920, while crossing the Mississippi on a train ride to visit his father in Mexico. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” centers on African and negritude themes. Hughes's writing always shows identification with Africa, and his later poetry on African subjects and African themes demonstrates his growing sophistication and knowledge of the history and problems of Africa (Hughes, 2009). Along with its emphasis on African themes, this poem so poignantly and dramatically expresses what it means to be a black American that it helps to assure Hughes's continuing fame.

Through the images of the river, Hughes traces the history of the African American from Africa to America. The muddy Mississippi makes Hughes consider the roles that rivers have played in human history. The first three lines introduce the subject of the poem. The primary image of water symbolically represents the history of humanity, acknowledging the fact that rivers are more ancient in the history of the earth.

The next line connects the poet with the river and acknowledges the influence of waterways on the history of the African American: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” This line is repeated at the end of the poem, reestablishing the connection between the human essence and the river, as well as the river's role in African American life.

The middle section reveals the connections between the history of the African American and four important rivers of the world: the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mississippi. The three African rivers are a part of the ancient history of black people when they were free, living in majestic kingdoms and forming the great civilizations of Africa (Tracy, 2008). The poem more specifically relates to the African American, who is the victim of slavery and discrimination in the New World, where rivers were used to transport black slaves.

The last section of the poem, “I've known rivers:/ Ancient, dusky, rivers// My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (Hughes, 2009), re-emphasizes the beginning section by restating the influence of rivers on the soul and life of black people from antiquity to the twentieth century. The final line of the poem repeats the statement that connects the human soul to the rivers of the world.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was positively reviewed by ...
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