Poetry Review: “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes

Langston-HughesReading about Jazz and Harlem has led me to pick up Langston Hughes again. I first read Hughes in my early 20s while I was living in Chicago. His poetry was a perfect fit my urban-student lifestyle: days of ideas and libraries, nights of bars and blues.

Over the years, I have periodically picked him up again. Each time appreciating him even more.

It is not that way with all poets you re-read. Some poets only belong to a certain time and place in your life. They were the perfect singer singing the perfect songs at one time in your life, but as the years pass they seem merely quaint.

Here is a poem about the power of music.

Enjoy!

 

The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
      I heard a Negro play.
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.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
      O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
      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—
      “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.”

 

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.”
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.

 

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

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.

Reading about the Harlem Jazz scene, I have been surprised to learn that the Harlem Renaissance and the jazz clubs were not as inextricably mixed as I assumed them to be. More often than not, according to many sources I have read, Harlem intellectuals and jazz musicians paid little attention to one another. Hughes was obviously an exception to this.

Poetry and music are two sides of the same artistic coin. Both seek to express what is most inexpressible, and hence most human about us. Poetry uses words and the music that comes from language. Jazz uses the sound that pours from the human soul. Blues attempts to use both.

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