Symbolism in The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

1074 Words Jul 13th, 2018 5 Pages
Symbolism in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Symbolism embodies Hughes’ literary poem through his use of the river as a timeless symbol. A river can be portrayed by many as an everlasting symbol of perpetual and continual change and of the constancy of time and of life itself. People have equated rivers to the aspects of life - time, love, death, and every other indescribable quality which evokes human life. This analogy is because a river exemplifies characteristics that can be ultimately damaging or explicitly peaceable. In the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Langston Hughes cites all of these qualities.
In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, the river stands as a symbol of endlessness, geographical awareness, and the
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The poem states, “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” (8-9). The singing symbolizes the happiness felt by the freed slaves while the river itself changes from being something murky and gloomy into something bright and made of gold. With the mention of the sunset, there is a sense of optimism and hope for a fresh start of a new day. Throughout these lines, the speaker conveys to the readers the impression that no matter where the location of the river is, it has the capability to create and sustain life, signifying the ability of the African American people to do the same. The completion of the symbol is in Hughes’s own personal account of himself and his own soul in the poem.
The river functions as a symbol representing the continuous movement and flow of time and geography. These main ideas adjoin in the one place and time in which the speaker currently resides and exists in. After Hughes’s comparison of the river to all human blood at the beginning of the poem, Hughes states, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (4). This impactful and emotion evoked line written by Hughes recognizes the message he is portraying of having a personal connection to the rivers
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