Today's Beautiful Gem: A passage from "The
Big Sea", an autobiography
of Langston Hughes
"I had been in to dinner early that afternoon on the train.
Now it was just sunset, and we crossed the Mississippi, slowly,
over a long bridge. I looked out the window of the Pullman at
the great muddy river flowing down toward the heart of the South,
and I began to think what that river, the old Mississippi, had
meant to Negroes in the past-- how to be sold down the river
was the worst fate that could overtake a slave in times of bondage.
Then I remembered reading how Abraham Lincoln had made a trip down
the Mississippi on a raft to New Orleans, and how he had seen
slavery at its worst, and had decided within himself that it
should be removed from American life. Then I began to think about
other rivers in our past-- the Congo, and the Niger, and the Nile
in Africa-- and the thought came to me: "I have known rivers," and
I put it down on the back of an envelope I had in my pocket,
and within the space of ten or fifteen minutes, as the train
gathered speed in the dusk, I had written this poem, which
I called `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 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 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 and dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers."
Note: This is the first published poem of Langston Hughes,
one of the first Black men of literature who strove to make
a productive and profitable career out of his writing.
Om Santih! Peace! - J. K. Mohana Rao