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This poem, written in 1923, is about an African American jazz musician who is playing and singing in a nightclub. The speaker of the poem is observing the singer, noting how physically tired or "weary" the man is as he sings. The man is able, however, to sing throughout the night because the music gives him the strength to continue. Through the music, the singer expresses his loneliness and sadness in his own past and present life, for the music exposes his innermost pain and suffering. The music is an emotional release, however, thereby providing the singer comfort.
The theme of the poem and the reader's ability to relate to the poem are closely connected. On a basic level, the theme concerns the close connection between African Americans and their music and how they have historically used music to relieve the pain and suffering in their lives, as was seen in the Negro spirituals during the times of slavery. I believe this was Hughes' purpose in writing the poem in 1923. But the poem also speaks of humankind in general. I believe the poem transcends race because all of us have used and do use music and poetry to help us through difficult times. When I'm asked what kind of music I like, I always says that it depends on my mood. If I'm feeling down, I want to listen to something that will either lift my spirits or will allow me to wallow in self-pity for a few hours so I can work through my pain.
Langston Hughes is one of my top five favorite poets, and his poetry was written to expose readers to African heritage and tell us what it was like to be black in America. Reading his poetry taught me about African Americans, but I can always take something universal from his poetry as well. His poetry always speaks to me.
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