“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a highly end-stopped poem: indeed, it contains no enjambments. This would be unusual for any poem, since almost all poems contain at least a few enjambments—but it is especially unusual for a poem written in free verse, that is, a poem that doesn’t have meter or a rhyme scheme.
Free verse poems usually rely on enjambment to create surprise and rhythm. However, the speaker of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is not particularly interested in that kind of surprise. Instead, the poem dramatizes the speaker’s deep, continuous knowledge of black life and culture, stretching back to the beginning of human history. There is no need for surprise or uncertainty here because the speaker already knows everything he or she needs to know. The poem’s end-stops thus contribute to the sense that the speaker is self-assured, confident in his or her experience and knowledge.
Further, the speaker finds ways to make the end-stops themselves contribute to the poem’s rhythm. Five of the poem’s ten lines end with the word “rivers.” This creates a chiming music, to which the poem returns again and again as it moves through its long, discursive lines. The river becomes a point of rest and assurance, something that grounds the poem’s rhythm. In much the same way, the rivers that the speaker describes also ground his or her historical experience: because they are continuous, flowing, and consistent, they model the speaker's deep knowledge of black life and history.
The poem’s use of end-stop thus helps create a sense of music and rhythm in the absence of meter and rhyme. At the same time, it reinforces the speaker’s sense of confidence and self-assurance.