What does it mean to "have the blues" as an emotional state? In this poem and many others, Hughes refers to the musical form known as "the blues." How might the term "the...
Published in 1926, Langston Hughes 's first book of poetry was entitled The Weary Blues. Blues music is directly related to the African-American experience as the blues burgeoned from the work songs of the slaves which had origins in West Africa. This musical form emerged out of the shouts and "hollers" of the field workers and out of spirituals. Later, with its twelve bars of notes of which the third and seventh are flatted, the blues became a recognized musical form; and, progessional singers who sand with bands sang of a range of subjects. Some of these subjects are natural disasters, superstitions, jailhouses, locomotives, and, of course, love. Unconventional in form and of a very personal nature, many blues lyrics consist of three-line stanzas. The second line of the stanza repeats the first, while the third line is frequently a response to the first two. This is the "call-and-response" form of the workers. But, each song may have an individual form that expresses the strong emotions of the singer. For many the blues are almost a tangible thing. Robert Johnson, for instance writes that "the blues grabbed mama's child" in his song "Preaching Blues."
Langston Huges drew on blues and jazz to create new poetic forms that expressed the reality and vitality of urban black life. In his poem, "The Weary Blues," for instance, Hughes describes a night in which he listened to a musician play the blues on Lennox Street. In imitation of the call-and-response of the songs, Hughes repeats lines such as
He did a lazy sway
He did a lazy sway
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
Huges observes this musician and understands the pain in his soul as he notes,
He played that sad saggy tune like a musical fool
Coming from a black man's soul.
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone.
Both the speaker and the musician suffer from the depression that they call the blues. Hughes's poem expresses this oppressive emotional state with the exclamations and "melancholy tone" of the music and of the poem as the piano "moans" and the singers utters, "Ain't got nobody in all this world."