The Negro Speaks of Rivers
How we cite our quotes:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the/ flow of human blood in human veins. (2-3)
Rivers are immortal. Humans may have been around for a really long time, but they have to die some time. Rivers, on the other hand, keep flowing without end. They must have seen a lot in their lifetime. In fact they must be pretty wise.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers. (4)
Our speaker’s mentor has been the rivers he’s known. These rivers have taught him a whole lot about the world and, as a result, his soul has become like theirs.
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. (8-10)
Our speaker devotes three full lines to the Mississippi River, and so we get the sense that the beating heart of this poem lies in this particular river and in its connection to slavery. We get the sense that our speaker wants us to believe the Euphrates River, the Congo River, and the Nile River are all somehow connected to it. The fact that the Mississippi sings suggests it is protesting slavery and celebrating the future president of the United States who will one day abolish slavery. In this way, nature (the rivers) is wiser than humans (who enslave others). Our speaker also redefines history at this moment. American history is often told in a different way through history textbooks (often involving the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, as well as Christopher Columbus), but, here, our speaker tells history from the African-American perspective.