Are there any clues in "The Weary Blues" about the life of the singer and why the singer might have the blues?"The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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There are some clues in "The Weary Blues." One set tells how the narrator relates to the singer/musician and the song "Weary Blues." Another set tells facts about the singer/musician's life. While a third set tells how the lyrics of the song relate to the singer/musician's life.

First, consider the set that tells about the singer/musician's life.

  • Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
  • With his ebony hands on each ivory key
  • Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
  • Coming from a black man's soul.
  • In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

The first clue gives his location as "Lenox Avenue." Of the four best known Lenox Avenues in the US, the most likely one is in New York, NY. Lenox Avenue, NY, NY, runs north by south out of the north side Of Manhattan's Central Park, going past East Harlem and into Harlem, where the Harlem Renaissance was centered.

The clue "With his ebony hands on each ivory key" gives two points of information. The first is the man's ethnicity: he is an African American--as his participation in the Harlem music scene would suggest--and dark skinned. The second is that along with singing, he plays piano.

We also know he is poor and makes his music in a baritone-bass voice in poor establishments with "rickety stools." He makes his music from "his soul," which may indicate his diligence and dedication or may indicate his empathetic connection to the songs he sings as they speak what is in his own soul (we don't yet know which one of these is the true case). There is some suggestion that he is originally from the Deep South, but this is only a vague suggestion based upon the imagery of and associations with the word "deep" in "deep song voice."

The other sets of clues are less straightforward. In one set, the fisrt three lines have a delayed Subject/Verb "I heard": "I heard a Negro play." This delay causes the impression that the Subject/Verb are an assumed "I am": i.e., "[I am] droning a drowsy syncopated tune." This temporary imagined contrast between hearer/narrator and the "Negro" who played embeds an empathetic relationship and association between the narrator and the singer/musician. In other words, for a moment, you think there are two musicians, the speaker who is "Droning a drowsy syncopated tune," and the "Negro" who played "Down on Lenox Avenue." This conflation of identities leaves the impression that the singer/musician's life, story, music speaks for the narrator as well as for the musician himself.

The last set of clues tells us that the singer/musician is singing and feeling his own life in his music--he is not just performing good blues for people to enjoy--he is telling his life in his "Weary Blues." The song ends "'And I wish that I had died.'" The poem ends, "He slept like a rock or a man that's died." This parallelism equates the musician's life and feelings with the "Weary Blues" and tells us precisely about how he experiences his life. Remember, too, that the first three lines conflate the speaker with the musician's life and song while expressing that they share a common experience and a common feeling about and reaction to that experience.

Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf. ...
I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied--
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died.


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