Study Guide

The N**** Speaks of Rivers Setting

By Langston Hughes


A positively global setting we have here. We glance out of our spaceship window at the beautiful planet Earth. When our speaker speaks of "rivers" we see some of the world’s biggest rivers slicing through continents like so many pieces of thread. Our speaker gets specific, and we travel to the Euphrates River, which (along with the Tigris River) forms the cradle of human civilization in the Middle East (hanging gardens of Babylon, anyone?). After that, we move to the rainforests of central western Africa where the Congo River sings us to sleep. Shortly thereafter we zoom to Egypt where the Nile River is crowded with boats bearing granite and limestone to build the pyramids. Lastly, we snake down the wide, winding Mississippi River, laden with catfish. We catch a glimpse of a nineteen year-old Abe Lincoln on a flatboat in the middle of this muddy river. We watch him witness slavery for the first time in 1829.

The sounds of this poem are almost as powerful as the images themselves. We hear our speaker splash around in the Euphrates. We can hear the rushing water of the Nile.