Monday, February 1, 2010

Langston Hughes: February 1, 1902--May 22, 1967

The following quotes are from the Wikipedia entry on Langston Hughes.

"James Mercer Langston Hughes
, (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best-known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.

. . .

On May 22, 1967, Langston Hughes died from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer, at the age of 65. His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer leading to the auditorium named for him within the Arthur Schomburg Center for Reasearch in Black Culture in Harlem. The design on the floor covering his cremated remains is an African cosmogram titled Rivers. The title is taken from the poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Hughes. Within the center of the cosmogram and precisely above the ashes of Hughes are the words My soul has grown deep like the rivers."

Since this poem has been singled out at his monument, I thought I would post it here.

The 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.

-- Langston Hughes --

Below is a link to the Wikipedia entry about Langston Hughes.


  1. Langston Hughes is one of the 20th century poets I include in my literature courses when we are making the transition from closed forms (most common in 18th and 19th centuries) to open forms (with Walt Whitman leading the way among American poets). Students, when dealing with Hughes in particular, quickly grasp the notion of poetry as "music"--though they seem unable to make the same connections between music and 2000+ years of lyric poetry prior to encountering the Harlem Renaissance poets. "We Real Cool" by Brooks is another winner when attempting the teach the music-poetry connection. I cannot almost completely persuade even the most unreachable students that contemporary rap (their idea of poetry) does not come close to the power and aesthetics of Hughes and his contemporaries.

  2. CORRECTION (with apologies):
    STRIKE - I cannot almost persuade
    AND CHANGE TO READ - I can almost persuade

  3. R. T.,

    Resend the comment with the correction. I will then remove the original comment.

  4. I also used "We Real Cool" poem in Intro to Lit courses. It was one of the few that made some connection with some of the students, most of whom, unfortunately, had little interest in literature, and none in poetry.