Source: A Walk Through Harlem
Funding for the VITAL/Ready to Teach collection was secured through the United States Department of Education under the Ready to Teach Program.
This segment from A Walk Through Harlem presents the poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” written by Langston Hughes in 1922 when he was eighteen years old. Born in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes traveled to New York City by the 1920s to become a part of an exciting arts and culture movement called the Harlem Renaissance. He later became known as the "poet laureate of Harlem." Hughes was one of the first African American writers who wrote about the authentic experiences of his people reflecting their pain, suffering, humor, creativity, and joy. He often was inspired by music and incorporated it into his poetry. Hughes made substantial artistic contributions to the Harlem Renaissance and holds an important place in American literature.
American history, African American history, literature, Harlem Renaissance, poets
The following Frame, Focus and Follow-up suggestions are best suited for middle school students using this video in an English language arts or social studies lesson. Be sure to modify the questions to meet your students' instructional needs.
What is Frame, Focus and Follow-up?
Frame (ELA) What is symbolism? What are metaphors and similes? Why does a poet sometimes use these devices in poetry?
Focus (ELA) Listen to the reading of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Listen for and list examples of symbolism, metaphors and similes.
Follow Up (ELA) Did the symbols, metaphors and similes affect your understanding of the poem? How? Are the rivers symbolic of something other than rivers? When you hear or read the poem multiple times, do you have different impressions or gather different meanings than with your first reading?
Frame (SS) "The Negro Speak of Rivers" is a poem most closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance. What do you know about the Harlem Renaissance? Why is Langston Hughes considered an important American poet?
Focus (SS) In the poem, Hughes speaks of four rivers. Name the rivers and where they are located in the world. Can you attach any meaning to the geographical location of the rivers and how they are mentioned in the poem?
Follow Up (SS) "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is a poem most closely associated with the Harlem Rennaissance. Before the Renaissance, most African Americans lived in rural areas as sharecroppers. Most could not read or write and were under constant fear of violence. When they migrated north they developed a new attitude about themselves. What might be the historical significance of the poem being written at this time? What attitudes do you observe in the speaker in the poem? From both listening to the poem and considering what you know about the Harlem Renaissance, can you identify the new ideas African Americans began to have about themselves?
PROFESSOR KATE RUSHIN: 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've 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 raise the pyramid above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans. And I've seen its mighty bosom turn all golden in the sun set. I've known rivers. Ancient dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.