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“The Weary Blues” is a poem by Langston Hughes that describes the class discrimination of the ear and the power of Black Art or oppressed Art that can take over the world. The poem has a melancholic tone throughout and uses imagery to describe certain scenarios. The poem also has some Jazz elements that Hughes intendedly added to complement the poem.
About the Poet
Langston Hughes is an American poet, novelist, socialist, and playwright. He invented Jazz poetry in Literature and he is known as a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. His poems often involve themes of African American movements.
The poem imitates patterns of Jazz music and is written in Free verse, although it contains some rhyming couplets. The poem has two stanzas and thirty five lines. The poem has no established metre.
Summary and Analysis
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, I heard a Negro play.
Humming a sleepy, abbreviated tune whilst rocking back and forth to a mellow sound, the speaker listened to a black man perform. The speaker observes this black man trying to find a tune in a very nonchalant manner.
The poet begins the poem as the speaker describes his view. The speaker watches an African American man find a tune in front of an audience. The way the black man is playing is described as “drowsy” and “syncopated”, which means the beats and rhythm of the melody are misplaced. This creates a haunting image for the readers. It is paired with the back and forth rocking of the man as he croons.
The speaker suddenly hears a loud drowsy misplaced sound or half-made tune that echoes in his ears. He notices a black man playing this misplaced tune as he rocks back and forth with a mellow humming. The first three lines very effectively describe the setting of the poem.
The word “Negro” is used as a derogatory term to emphasis the poor conditions of the lower class and the singer that belonged to this class.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light He did a lazy sway. . . . He did a lazy sway. . . . To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
The speaker reveals that he witnessed this on Lenox Avenue the other night. The black man was playing under a dim gaslight as he swayed lazily over the piano. As he swayed lazily to the tunes of the blues that he played.
In these next lines, the speaker adds on to the setting of the poem by revealing he was on Lenox Avenue where he was the African American play sluggishly. The speaker describes how the street was lit with lights but they let out a pale dull effect under which the Black man sat his Piano listlessly as he swayed to the keys of the piano. As he swayed to the tunes of the blues that he played, lazily. The tunes of the weary blues.
This is beautifully worded by the poet. The speaker notices a black man completely mesmerised in his blues as he wearily plays the keys to himself unknowing of the surrounding which is overflowing by the pale dull pallor of old gas lights. The black man is focused and lost into his tunes of the blues that he is swaying along.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key He made that poor piano moan with melody. O Blues!
The speaker describes the situation in detail as he mentions the ebony hands of the player on each ivory key. His playing was so beautiful that it made the piano moan with the melody of the blues. Oh blues!
The speaker here focuses on the performer now who is black, therefore his ebony, ie. black hands falling on each Ivory, ie. white keys. This contrast gives us an insight into the oppression of the black community in that era and how African Americans were not allowed to mingle with the whites. Yet, here there is a black man playing the white keys with ebony hands, gracefully and dedicatedly he plays his blues that makes the piano moan as well.
Here, moan refers to sorrow and mourning. The piano experiences immense melancholy when the man plays his blues on it. The melody is so sad that it looks as if the piano is hurt by it, it cannot express this sorrow and therefore it is moaning with depression.
The piano is an inanimate object and its only task is to sing out the melody that has been played. But here the piano is mourning with sorrow that the man is filled with. It’s as if the man is melting into the piano with all his weariness and melancholy that makes the piano moan.
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
The man swayed back and forth on his rickety stool as he played the sad ragged tune as if someone was drunk with music. The man is lost in his melody and playing it as if someone is intoxicated with the blues.
The speaker here talks about the way the man is playing the tunes. It appears as if he is drunk with music. Swaying on his rickety stool back and forth as he plays that sad “raggy tune”. The stool and the tunes, both are worn out according to the speaker.
“Musical fool” might refer to the jesters that entertain people of higher class although they belong to a lower class. Here, the black man is entertaining the people on Lenox Avenue with his worn-out tunes.
Lines 14- 18
Sweet Blues! Coming from a black man’s soul. O Blues! In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
Sweet Blues coming from the black man’s soul. Oh Blues!In a deep, low voice with a melancholic tune, the speaker heard the black man sing as the old piano accompanied him with its moans.
The speaker thinks the Blues are sweet that come directly from the Black man’s soul. The Blues that he man sings in a very low, deep voice with a melancholic tune that is accompanied with the moaning of the piano as he plays while singing, the speaker is witnessing these Sweet and sorrowful blues.
“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 black man sings, “I don’t have anybody in this world, I don’t have anybody but myself, I’m going to quit being sad about my problems, and put my troubles aside on a shelf.”
The speaker mentions that the black singer starts singing and then presents the lyrics that the black man murmured. These lyrics are melancholic and are sung by a heavy colloquial accent of the black man which suggests his culture and race and the lower class that he comes from.
The lyrics itself are very sorrowful as he sings that he has nobody in this whole world, nobody but himself. Everyone has nobody but themselves in this world. But here, the singer feels alienated by the society due to his complexion and caste and therefore he sings he has nobody but himself who accepts him as he is. But he is not going to be sad about it, he is going to quit his sorrow and worries and keep his troubles aside on a shelf.
Lines 23- 30
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He played a few chords then he sang some more— “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 black man thumped his foot three times on the floor. He played a few chords and then continued his singing, “I have the weary blues and I cannot be satisfied. I got the weary blues and I cannot be content, I’m not that happy anymore and I wish that I was dead.”
The black player thumped his foot thrice on the floor and played a few chords that accompanied his tune as he sang some more. He sings that he got the weary blues and he cannot be satisfied. This suggests that he is not only playing the blues but he got the blues as well.
He is depressed over something and that is keeping him from being content. He repeats this twice which emphasises his weariness which is keeping him from being satisfied. He is no more happy as he used to be and he hopes he is dead. The thumping is suggesting the beats that support his song.
Lines 31- 35
And far into the night he crooned that tune. The stars went out and so did the moon. The singer stopped playing and went to bed While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
The black man sang this tune far into that night. Even after the stars vanished from the night sky and the moon went out as well. The black man stopped playing and singing, and went to bed while the weary blues that he played echoed through his head. Then he slept as still as rock or a dead man.
The speaker says that the black man sang the song late till night when the stars are no more to be seen and nor is the moon visible. The singer wrapped up his show and stopped playing to go to bed. Here, the speaker gets an omniscient presence as they are able to tell what happened next.
The player wrapped up and went to bed. The night was dark, the stars were gone and so was the moon. Yet the music stayed with him. The weary blues echoed through his head and he slept soundly as deeply and still as a rock or one may say as a dead man.
The poem ends with the word “dead”which might imply that the black musician died after his performance that night, after his song ended.