The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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 song, much as others have from singing religious songs such as spirituals.

The narrator describes the musician’s emotional condition as he performs; it takes a downward direction from producing a “mellow croon” to making “that old piano moan.” Balancing the downward movement of the musician’s “sad raggy tune,” however, is his ability to make “that poor piano moan with melody.” He finally makes the piano become his soul mate: “that old piano moan[s]” just as he is doing. The lamentation is turned into a cathartic release: To sing and play the blues is to escape the blues. This link between the instrument and...

(The entire section is 860 words.)