Written by Langston Hughes, poet of the Harlem Renaissance, “The Weary Blues” is set in a nightclub on Lenox Avenue where a world-weary black singer croons a mellow tune. He is laid-back, does “a lazy swing,” plays piano while “swaying to and fro,” and sings in a deep, melancholy voice. He serenades the crowd with two verses of a blues tune:
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.
The first and second verses contrast each other in their messages. In the first verse, the singer seems resigned to his fate and willing to cope with life; in the second verse, the singer suggests a bit of hope with ultimate disappointment with life and capitulation to death.
In the first verse, the singer declares that he has no one else to depend on but himself; self-reliance and independence are key to survival. In fact, he realizes that he must stop lamenting his misfortunes (“quit ma frownin’”) and put them aside in order to move forward. Although he is not pleased with how things are in his life, he begrudgingly accepts them and will “put ma troubles on the shelf” in order to continue living.
In the second verse, at first he seems to offer a glimmer of hope; although he is worn down by life (the singer’s repetitive of “got the Weary Blues” uses music as a metaphor for downtrodden lives, especially of blacks in America), his two declarations of “can’t be satisfied” do present a tiny bit of room for improvement. In other words, there must be something–although not encountered in his reality–that can satisfy him. Is it racial equality or social justice? Nonetheless, the listener realizes that nothing in his world is successful in bringing him satisfaction. He “ain’t happy no mo’,” which suggests that perhaps he did experience past happiness that is now gone. The singer has given up–he now wishes that he “had died.”
The poem’s ending seems to continue the second verse’s mood, with the singer going home to sleep "like a rock or a man that's dead."