Langston Negro Rivers

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Comparative Argument

Thesis Statement

Langston Hughes' The Negro's Speaks of Rivers and Sonia Sanchez's An Anthem are similar in the sense that they both focus on the black African struggles.

Langston Huges: The Negro's Speaks Of Rivers

А cursory reading of many of Hughes's poems from the 1920s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” would confirm that he had а strong sense of “race pride”, borne out of “а new racial consciousness and self-conception”, which is why Johnson hailed Hughes's poetry as “without doubt the finest expression of this new Negro Poetry”. In his “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” Hughes clearly formulates his position on the black aesthetic. He argues that the impasse to developing а black aesthetic is the hegemony of American white culture (figured as the “racial mountain”) over representations of “race.”

Earlier in а time, African-Americans were referred to as "negroes". Negroes had experienced а lot of strife during the years. In the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", Langston Hughes, an African-American author, wrote of а life and struggles of the Negro throughout time. He wrote these struggles though the use of different rivers to help put the events in а order. Civilizations were developed by rivers to create а water source. He wrote of Negro living by rivers and what was seen through the Negro's eyes.

Hughes wrote of the Euphrates River were Negroes bathed in the beginning of civilization, this was indicated by the phrase; "I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young". (Line 5) Life began in the Garden of Eden where the Euphrates River flowed from. Negroes in the poem are in the commencement of time. Adam and Eve in the Bible are casted away form the Garden of Eden to labor and toil over the land. This is а struggle. Working the land to feed yourself and family is а hard task. (Edward 56)

The next river mentioned is the Congo River. The Congo River is found in а equatorial region of Africa. In the poem Hughes wrote that huts were built "...near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep." (6) Negroes had to construct their own shelter and build up cities close to the water source. Negroes did not have buildings or houses; any shelter was created out of grass and tree limbs. (Edward 56)

"I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it". (7) Egypt was erected by the Nile River, the life giving river as it referred to as by the Egyptians. Hughes wrote of slaves who built the pyramids for Egyptian Kings and Queens. Slavery was а manger struggle in the Negro history. Slaves were not asked to build the pyramids; it was demanded of them or die by the hands of the slave watchers (Rampersad 34-37).

In line 8, Negroes "heard the signing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans..." (Ojo-Ade 43) Signing was а way that Negroes kept their spirits high and convey messages. When Abe Lincoln was President of the United States of America, slavery was still legal and enforced heavily in the South. Slaves were not allowed to legally marry, have an education or own property before President Abe Lincoln abolished slavery. Slaves were forced to work from dawn to dust. Hughes expressed this by writing, "I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset." Slaves in those days did not have eight hour work days and unions to defend their civil rights. Slaves had no civil rights. They were subjected to physical abuse and it would go completely unnoticed. (The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes 11). He also wrote of all the major rivers that played а part of civilizations that built the world. The Euphrates, Congo, Nile and the Mississippi are all а major river where colonies and cities were erected around. “There was strife and struggle at those banks.” (Edward 56)

Sonia Sanchez: An Anthem

Affectionately known as the Poet Laureate of the Planet, Sanchez has built а body of work that spans over 40 years. Sonia Sanchez's poem “An Anthem” first appeared in 1987's Under а Soprano Sky and later was included in Shake Loose My Skin (1999), а collection of previously published and new poems. “An Anthem” is written in а free verse broken into stanzas of varying lengths. In it, like Hughes, Sanchez celebrates her African-American heritage with а vibrant descriptions of dance and music. Alongside this celebration is а call for courage to stand up for peace and compassion. It is а poem of resilience that acknowledges some of the ills of the world without giving up hope or identity (Ojo-Ade 66).

Sanchez uses many styles of writing in her poetry, ranging from а haikus and sonnets to free verse. “An Anthem” is representative of her work in that the style suits а content, and the content is perfectly in line with her canon of work. Throughout her career, Sanchez has written about а importance of peace, even when pursuing it is uncomfortable or dangerous. Her writings about African-American themes often have а collective application, as “An Anthem” does. Although the speaker in the poem asks for а personal courage, the word “we” dominates the poem (Ojo-Ade 67).


In the poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", Langston Hughes, wrote а story of hard times for Negroes in history. The anthem seems like an addition to his story, as it relates a prayer of Negroes asking for courage and strength to endure through the hard times, and eventually embrace freedom.

Works Cited

Edward, James The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry source Literature Resource Center, 1930-1946:56

Ojo-Ade, Femi Of Dreams Deferred, Dead Or Alive: African Perspectives on African-American Writers Langston Hughes and Africa, Source Gale Infotrac. 43-67

Rampersad, Arnold. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Knopf, source Literature Resource Center1996:34-37

Langston Hughes. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Classics) by, Source Gale Infotrac (Editor) Oct. 1995:11