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Langston Hughes Poems “Mother to Son” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” Comparative Essay

Langston Hughes’s poems “Mother to Son” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” express his opinions and hopes about racism. “Mother to Son” has a much less “formal” dialect than that of the “Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Also, “the Negro Speaks of Rivers” has a slightly irregular beat in comparison to “mother to son,” which uses a more regular beat, which is used to the effect of creating a sort of “staircase beat,” which is appropriate because the main focus of the poem is about how life is like walking up a staircase. Metaphors and similes used in the two poems vary, the poem “The Negro Speaks of rivers” uses many metaphors and a lot of similes, whereas the poem “Mother to Son” uses a lot of metaphors and no similes.

The poems are very different from one another if you look at how they are displayed. Still, if you look at them in terms of their overall message, the issue of racism against blacks in America, they are very similar. For example, the language in “Mother to Son” is very informal. The language used in the poem is like this because the person talking in the poem is talking to their son, i.e. “mother to son” therefore, Langston Hughes feels that the poem need not be formal. However, this informal dialect may also be down to the fact that the person speaking throughout the entire poem has a strong American Southern accent; this also effects the dialect used in the poem by making it less formal than that of saying someone who came from a different part of America, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”.

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Langston Hughes may also have chosen to use a woman with a strong Southern accent because the south of America was where most of racism took place. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” language is very different from “Mother to Son.” “Flow of human blood in human veins” is considered a formal use of speech. The poet who wrote this particular poem, Langston Hughes, made this poem formal because it is not speaking to a specific person, like “Mother to Son”; it speaks to a general audience rather than a specific individual. Therefore Langston Hughes felt that because of this, it needed to be written formally. So when the poem says things like “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” it is speaking to a general audience, not to one person.

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Despite its informal use of language, the poem “Mother to Son” uses an irregular beat. Langston Hughes cleverly uses this. He wrote the poem in a particular way and used particular words to create the beat he achieved. The poem’s beat is used to create the effect of walking up or down a staircase. “And places with no carpet on the floor,” the staircase effect used in this sentence can be pointed out, and places with no carpet on the floor, the sentence jumps quickly from one syllable to the next, just like stairs, this does not always work on any sentence you make, that is why it is such a clever use of words.

In the other poem written by Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the beat used throughout the poem is regular. Langston Hughes, like before with the formal language, may have decided that because of who the poem is actually talking to, that it required a regular beat, “I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers” this is just one example of the regular beat used in the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. In the poem “Mother to Son,” metaphors (comparison not using like or as) are common, but there are very few similes (comparison using like or as). Part of Langston Hughes’ message presented in the poem “Mother to Son” was that life is like a staircase; he puts this message across without once saying “like”; if he had, there would be similes in the poem.

So rather than saying life was like a staircase, he said it was, with the result of metaphors, “And places with no carpet on the floor,” this part is reflecting upon his belief that life is like a staircase, “And places with no carpet on the floor” is basically a bad part of life as they climb a staircase. In the second poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” there is almost an equal balance of metaphors and similes throughout the entire poem. “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” this example from the poem is a simile because the word “like” is used. “And I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset” this other example from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a metaphor because it is saying something is something, rather than saying it is like something.

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Finally, both of these poems, “Mother to Son” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” written by Langston Hughes, have the same clear message even though it is presented very differently in each one of them. “Mother to Son,” like “The Negro Speaks of River,” says to the reader that Langston Hughes and all blacks in that time period suffer persecution. What the poem also says that “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is that walking up a staircase represents life and that no matter what, you should never give up, Don’t you set down on the steps ’cause you find it kinder hard.” As in the previous poem, the other poem was written by Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” sends across Hughes’s feelings towards racism In America.

However, it also contains a message “Mother to son” does not, this message is that although whites often treated blacks as inferiors rather equals, blacks have a history and culture as strong as the whites, “I’ve known river ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.” The major points reviewed are the language used, the rhythm and the number of metaphors and similes. When it came down to the language used, it turned out that “Mother to Son” used a very informal way of speaking; this was because the mother was talking to her son, the other poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” uses formal language, this is because there is a general audience being spoken to rather than a specific person.

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Next, when it came down to the rhythm used, “Mother to Son” used an irregular beat like walking a staircase, and “The Negro Speaks of rivers” used a regular beat. Metaphors were used a lot in “Mother to Son” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” used a similar amount of metaphors and similes. So the poet Langston Hughes, overall message about racism was a couple of things. No matter how much you are but down and how miserable you feel, still try and get on with your life without giving up completely. The other message was that blacks have a rich and strong culture and history, just as whites do.

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Langston Hughes Poems "Mother to Son" and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" Comparative Essay. (2021, Sep 03). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from