Is there a great poem about the Mississippi River?

Is there a great poem about the Mississippi River?
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Here in April, celebrated annually as National Poetry Month, I’ve been wondering: Is there a truly great poem about the Mississippi River?

The question first came to mind last December when a copy of “River Poems,” a beautiful, pocket-sized collection of poems about rivers around the world, landed in my mailbox.

Editor Henry Hughes, who compiled the collection and offers an introduction, doesn’t seem surprised that rivers often end up as the subject of poems. “Rivers,” he tells readers, “teem with symbolic significance: they have long been ritual sites for funerals and baptisms, for deaths and rebirths; they slake our thirst, nourish our crops, and provide us with food, transportation, and power.”

True enough, and I’d also add that rivers, with their complicated currents and frequent twists, are very much like poems, which often work on many levels and take surprising turns.

Carl Sandburg makes a similar point in “Languages,” one of the poems in the anthology. He compares human speech to rivers, which seem stable but are always changing, “crossing borders and mixing.”

Obviously, rivers have long been an inspiration for poets. There’s ample proof of that in “River Poems,” which includes poems about the Nile and the Thames, the Danube and the Niagra, the Wabash and the Shenandoah. As a child of Louisiana, I naturally wanted to see how our mighty Mississippi is represented.

Hughes includes, perhaps inevitably, the lyrics of “Ol’ Man River,” the ballad written by Oscar Hammerstein for the Broadway musical “Showboat.” The old man of the song is the Mississippi, quietly persistent amid the human pageant of injustice and suffering. As Hammerstein succinctly puts it, the river “just keeps rollin’ along.”

Also included is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the classic Langston Hughes poem that references Louisiana: “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.”


About Mary Weyand 11096 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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