Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes, E. B. Lewis (Illustrator)
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.

2 comments:

Joan Kindig/School Library Journal said...

The exquisite illustrations make the eloquent verses all the more accessible. Lewis is at his best here, and the use of watercolors to evoke the flow of a river is particularly apt. The artist's double-page depictions of black individuals-evocative portraits of faces, an image of a parent and child asleep in a hammock outside a "hut near the Congo," or a close-up of a pair of brown hands lifting an earthenware pot-dovetail perfectly with Hughes's words and ideas. A vivid gold-infused painting of a boy and his grandfather fishing in the Mississippi's muddy waters suggests a hope that the river and the African-American soul will endure.

Kirkus Reviews said...

...A visual paean to Hughes's enduring poem, Lewis's images make a personal connection to a taproot of feelings. The 12 lines of the poem, considered Hughes's signature song of the Harlem Renaissance, are poignantly expressed through the artist's trademark watercolors, which depict in successive double-page spreads black children playing by the Euphrates, a mother and child sleeping by the Congo and fishermen with a net waist-deep in the Nile. The penultimate image, also depicted on the cover, brings the poem into the present with a grandfather and child fishing by a modern Mississippi River bridge. Lewis states in a concluding note that he nearly drowned as a child, and his paintings are awash with emotion. While the picture-book format targets the book for young readers, the word "Negro" in the title may require some context. It has the capacity to reach far above the normal picture-book ages...The beautifully reverent, serene cover image will persuade all to look inside.