Langston Hughes: ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’

Jan. 2020 Langston HughesLangston Hughes (1902-1967) was an African American poet writing during the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s. He had some white and Native American ancestry that also had influence on his work.  Hughes wrote many poems that were supportive of the history and culture of Black people and for a while in the 1930s was a sympathizer of the Communist Party. The poems “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Democracy” express some of his core beliefs. 

“A Negro Speaks of Rivers”

I’ve known rivers:
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.

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.
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.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


Democracy will not come

Today, this year

Nor ever

Through compromise and fear.


I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.


I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.

I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.

I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.



Is a strong seed


In a great need.


I live here, too.

I want freedom

Just as you.

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