At the time Hughes was writing, Jazz music was exploding out of New York City, and "The Weary Blues " is an excellent...
Langston Hughes is the greatest poet of the Harlem Renaissance. His poems, especially "Dreams" and "Harlem," are often anthologized in high school literature textbooks.
At the time Hughes was writing, Jazz music was exploding out of New York City, and "The Weary Blues" is an excellent example of Jazz poetry. (Follow the link below to watch a video of Hughes reciting the poem with accompaniment from a Jazz ensemble.) Hughes believed that Jazz was an expression of black culture and that it was essentially at odds with the world of white America. He wrote,
“But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.”
In "The Weary Blues" Hughes uses the rhythm and language of the African-American, including the dialect prevalent in black literature and the emerging Jazz sound:
"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."
The poem is clearly a good example of the "blues" and the musician portrayed is worn out, presumably from racism and lack of opportunity. He finally says he'd like to die. The poem is negative and lacks a silver lining. The idea of eventual equality, however, is prevalent in other Hughes poems.
Like "The Weary Blues," "Mother to Son" uses black dialect ("I'se, a-climbin,'" and "turnin' corners"). It differs because its tone is essentially optimistic. The mother in the poem has had a hard life. She says, "And life for me ain't been no crystal stair." But the message to her son is that she has laid the groundwork and he needs to continue climbing the stairs to equality.
Likewise in "I Too" Hughes expresses optimism for the future. The poem gives an excellent brief of the history of blacks in America and charts the course from servant to leader. Imagine President Obama consigned to the kitchen for his meal.
Both "Dreams" and "Harlem" are ambivalent about the prospect of black progress in America. They are not as negative as "The Weary Blues" but do not express the optimism of "Mother to Son" or "I Too."
"Dreams" simply urges the African-American to retain the dream of equality. It is a simple but powerful poem and can be read from any perspective, not just that of a minority striving for acceptance in a racist world.
"Harlem," like "The Weary Blues," focuses on the negative as it explores the idea that the promise of the Declaration of Independence (all men are created equal) has been postponed to the point of potential violence. The final line, "Or does it explode" predicts the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Of the mentioned poems, "Harlem" may be most in tune with the desperation expressed in "The Weary Blues."