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Course Hero. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Nov. 2017. Web. 16 Dec. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Negro-Speaks-of-Rivers/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, November 29). The Negro Speaks of Rivers Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 16, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Negro-Speaks-of-Rivers/

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Course Hero. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers Study Guide." November 29, 2017. Accessed December 16, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Negro-Speaks-of-Rivers/.

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Course Hero, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers Study Guide," November 29, 2017, accessed December 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Negro-Speaks-of-Rivers/.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers | Quotes

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1.

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the / flow of human blood in human veins.


Narrator

Readers move back through geological time as the speaker simultaneously conjures a vision of a network of interconnected blood vessels. It seems the speaker claims presence at the Creation.

2.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


Narrator

Following the line about blood flowing through human veins, "deep" takes on an oracular rather than literal expression. Once again, the speaker gives the image of a soul present at the very beginning of human life.

3.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.


Narrator

The phrase "young dawns" refers to a new, young world—and the Euphrates marks the spiritual birthplace for many of Earth's peoples.

4.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.


Narrator

The soulful genealogy proceeds as the everyman-speaker makes a home in Africa. The Congo, while associated with colonization and bloodshed by the time of the poem's writing, instead has a peaceful connotation, suggesting a far earlier time.

5.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.


Narrator

The speaker (in his time-traveler mode) is in Egypt and takes credit for building the pyramids. He might represent a composite of the slaves who built the pyramids.

6.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln / went down to New Orleans.


Narrator

The reference to singing in the context of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–65), who ended slavery in America, suggests the spirituals sung by enslaved African Americans. Perhaps, for instance, the river sings "Go Down, Moses," a song sung by enslaved people that is a hymn to power and revolution.

7.

I've seen its muddy / bosom turn all golden in the sun.


Narrator

The description of the Mississippi River as both "muddy" and "golden" might suggest the range of colors of African Americans' skin tones. The reference to "golden" might also build on the previous mention of singing, presumably a freedom song sung by slaves. At such a song, the muddy river might indeed transform with the golden glow of freedom's promise.

8.

I've known rivers.


Narrator

The word known, repeated three times in the poem, suggests intimacy. The speaker represents the collective knowledge of all black people.

9.

Ancient, dusky rivers.


Narrator

The rivers previously described as ancient are now also dusky. Readers have moved from the Middle Eastern dawn—the birthplace of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions—to the duskiness, or darkness, of all rivers. Dusky, moreover, was a term applied to the skin color of black men and women, although the word is now considered to have overtones of colonialism.

10.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


Narrator

The poem's closing line reaffirms the humanity—indeed, the uniquely privileged wisdom—of the Negro, as represented by the speaker.

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