"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
The speaker of Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” lays claim to a long history filled with elements from a variety of times and places. Through the language he uses to describe past events, the speaker sheds a positive light on the past and emphasizes the benefits of memory.
The speaker references different points in history in Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Central Africa, and the United States as though he had personally witnessed them. It goes without saying that one person couldn’t have actually experienced all of these things, but it is important that he is purposefully claiming the past.
By claiming the past, the speaker has been made powerful; he has “raised the pyramids”(6). The speaker also mentions another part of the past which he was “lulled...to sleep”(5). This description gives the impression that the past has a soothing quality as well. Furthermore, the imagery uses to describe the Mississippi continues to shed a positive light on the past. He has watched the Mississippi’s “muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset” (7).
The picture of things being turned golden gives the impression of encouraging change and value.
In addition to claiming the past and showing the past in a positive manner, the speaker also confirms for the reader that laying claim to the past has been useful for him by stating that his “soul has grown deep like the river” (3). By maintaining his connection to the past rather than forgetting it, the speaker has not only taken on the positive attributes of the past that he mentions earlier, he has also grown and progressed forward.