The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

1.Break apart at least four lines of the poem (more would be helpful). Here are some things to think about. Don’t answer the questions specifically. Just break apart the poem (see below).


i.What does each line mean? Ask questions if you need to.

ii.Is there imagery in the poem? Does the poem make use of metaphor or simile to give further insight into the poem’s message? Are there any important symbols in the poem?

iii.What double meanings do some of the words have? Think about how words or phrases in the poem may have both literal and figurative meanings. Paraphrase and exchange words if you need to.Are there any plays on the meaning of a word or any puns in the poem? Are any words used in such a way that their meaning is uncertain?

iv. Is any of the poem’s language ironic—does the implied meaning oppose the surface-level meaning in some way? How does this affect the overall meaning or message of the poem?


i.Think about how the poem’s language and the context in which it’s written create a tone—is the tone angry, sad, thoughtful, jubilant? How might this contribute to the poem’s meaning?

c.Identify the speaker and the intended audience.

i.What can you tell about the speaker based on the content of the poem? Is the speaker male or female, young or old? Is the speaker addressing anyone in particular? Be sure to make notes about how you were able to infer this from the poem.

d. Identify the specific setting of time and place.

i.Does the poem offer any information about the setting in which the poem’s action or situation is occurring? This can be concrete information or abstract information.

Part two (25 pts):

Sum up your findings into a concise, well written paragraph about the meaning of the entire poem.



In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to

Myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.

Ah, how hard it is to say what that wood

Was, so savage and harsh and strong that the

Thought of it renews my fear!

Part 1: Broken apart and analyzed:

In the middle of the journeymiddle age/mid-life crisis of ourhumanitylifecould also be a reference to society, I came to

Myselfself-realization; awakeningin a dark wood??? does he mean a forest or depression? , for the straight way was lost way to God; sin and evil has obscured the path.

Ah, how hard it is to say what that wood

Was uncertain about how he feels, so savage and harsh and strong personification of the wood that the

Thought of it renews my fear!

Part 2: Paragraph

In this passage, it seems that the narrator, gender unknown, is going through a midlife crisis and is not happy with where he is in his life; or this could also be a reference to something which is not going well in society during the time the narrator is writing this, as he makes a reference to “our” (mankind). If this is more personal, which it leans more towards as he mentions “I came to myself”—indicating a sense of self-realization, he doesn’t really seem to know what is causing his funk/mood or how he can get out of it. Whatever feelings the narrator has are very negative as he describes the “wood” (his mood) as being “savage, harsh and strong.” It is almost as if he feels hopeless, especially when he states, “thought of it renews my fears.” However, he never mentions what this fear is, leaving the reader wondering if the narrator is afraid of the future. If he continues on the path he is going, will it be too difficult? Is he afraid of a challenge? Will the path lead to harm? If the “straight way” is a reference to heaven or God, will the path he is currently on lead him to hell? It seems that the narrator also has a difficult time coping with reality, as he doesn’t want to think about the “dark wood” he is in, as it would be too difficult for him to even think about it

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