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Langston Hughes on hard-won wisdom

Langston Hughes on hard-won wisdom

"My soul has grown deep like the rivers." - Langston Hughes

As a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes gave a dignified, eloquent, deeply human voice to Black Americans. This line is from one of his seminal early works, The Negro Speaks of Rivers. He wrote it at 18 while traveling to Mexico to visit his father:

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.

Hughes demonstrated wisdom well beyond his years by using the river as his central image for the connection of a people across time and place. Rivers are about as primal as it gets for humans, so much so that the very metaphor of “river” also winds its way across cultures and times through all of literature.



About the Art

“The river may have carried him to unfamiliar places, but he’s not adrift. The illustration shows a figure in a rowboat with long, strong roots growing out of it. The horizon line of water flips between water and soil, suggesting the wisdom of those who are rooted to something deeper than place.”

Art by Evan Robertson. All rights reserved.

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