The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“The Weary Blues” is a lyric poem with two voices. The central narrative voice describes an African American (or Negro, in this 1923 poem), in Harlem, New York, who is observed singing and playing a blues number. The poem provides a sample of the blues as well as an observation of the blues tradition from an outside source. As the title of the poem indicates, and the narrator suggests (with “droning” and “drowsy”), the musician is literally weary; the setting is late at night. Although the singer is weary, as his physical action, “a lazy sway,” implies, he has enough stamina to sing “far into the night.” The tone of both the narrator and the singer, with his “melancholy tone” and his playing that comes “from a black man’s soul,” indicates depression or sadness. Blues singers themselves identify melancholy and misery as the major themes of the blues. The blues, however, serves as more than a method of complaint: The very act of writing or singing the blues provides an antidote to the pain the songs express.
As the poem progresses, the narrator describes the singer/player expressing his loneliness, displeasure, and uncertainty about his present and future. It is in his singing that his inner self, his melancholy “soul,” is revealed. In singing the blues, the Harlem man transforms or releases his pent-up emotional burden into musical expression. He receives solace after his trials and tribulations from singing his secular...
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The poem utilizes the traditional musical structure of the blues and incorporates actual blues lyrics. In “Note on the Blues” (1927), Hughes states that “the Blues, unlike the Spirituals, have a strict poetic pattern: one long line repeated and a third line to rhyme with the first two. Sometimes the second line in repetition is slightly changed and sometimes, but very seldom, it is omitted.” The repeated line adds emphasis to the intensity of a thought or feeling:
“I got the Weary BluesAnd I can’t be satisfied.Got the Weary BluesAnd can’t be satisfied—I ain’t happy no mo’And I wish that I had died.”
In most blues lyrics and blues poems, the last word rhymes (or off-rhymes) with the last word of the first line, as “self” and “shelf” do. Rhyme is determined by the particular speech patterns of the singer or local community. Since this is a syncopated tune and poem, there is a shift in the regular meter, from iambic to trochaic. There also is a shortening of words (“mo’”), as well as the dropping of sounds or syllables from the middle of a word. Like singing the blues, in which a musician uses gesture and intonation to convey a particular impression, the formal poetic structure of this...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cullen, Countee. Review of The Weary Blues, by Langston Hughes. In Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and K. A. Appiah. New York: Amistad, 1993. Questions the merit of Hughes’ jazz and blues poems, but praises his more traditional lyrical verse.
Jemie, Onwuchekwa. Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. One of the first full-length treatments of Hughes’ poetry. Discusses both jazz and blues themes and treats The Weary Blues in chapter 2, “Shadow of the Blues.”
Miller, R. Baxter. The Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1989. Examines Hughes’ poetry by focusing on the imaginative process. The Weary Blues is interpreted in chapter 3, “‘Deep like the Rivers,’ The Lyrical Imagination,” as a work that reveals a diversity of techniques.
Rampersad, Arnold. 1902-1941: I, Too, Sing America. Vol. 1 in The Life of Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. A definitive biography of Hughes, which addresses the literary history of The Weary Blues in the context of Hughes’s relationship to literary figures of the 1920’s.
Tracy, Steven C. Langston Hughes and...
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