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 as 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.
Besides freedom, a common theme in African American poetry is community. In school, we called it the “collective we.” It’s a way of thinking that African Americans exhibit even today. For example, after the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the later acquittal of his killer, neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman in 2013, President Obama publically came out and said that Martin could have easily been his own son. It’s a mentally that we all share: if injustice happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.
Beyoncé received a lot of criticism from conservatives and cops for her portrayal of police officers in her “Formation” music video. In the video, the camera pans over graffiti that says, “Stop shooting us,” throughout the video, she is sitting (or standing) on top of a New Orleans police cruiser as it sinks underwater, and at the end of the video, a line of riot police officers surrender to a child dancing.
Conservatives called this an attack against police and said she should be grateful for the officers who protect her everyday—at her shows, appearances, etc. However, what they fail to realize is that Beyoncé isn’t speaking for herself, but for thousands of brothers and sisters who don’t have a voice—for the children in Flint, Michigan dying from contaminated drinking water while corrupt officials still keep their jobs, for the unarmed teenagers who are murdered for “looking” suspicious in hoodies and jeans, for the black men in prison serving excessive sentences for victimless crimes.
Similarly, Hughes brings the community together. His poem takes us on a journey through our history, back to the birth of civilization at the Euphrates, then deep into the heart of Africa along the Congo, up the Nile overlooking the great Egyptian pyramids, and finally to the mighty Mississippi where news of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves echoed along its banks.
For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the community. Use your words to unite a people. Lend your voice to a silenced generation. Provide an atmosphere of learning and understand by taking them on a journey through their heritage.