“The Weary Blues”, the speaker describes an evening spent listening to a blues musician In Lenox Avenue, Harlem. With the help of certain poetic and acoustic techniques, the poem manages to evoke the same lamenting and woeful tone and mood of blues music. This essay will be a critical appreciation of this poem in which I will discuss it in the context of the Harlem Renaissance as well as examine how the Blues music functions as a means of articulating personal and collective experience.
I will analyses the poem by paying particular attention to the rhythmic structure, setting, diction and mood and how hose features serve to highlight the themes of the poem I. E. Loneliness, pain and sorrow. Before beginning the analysis itself, it is important to elaborate on the Harlem Renaissance. The purpose of this movement, which mainly took place In 1 sass and sass, was to reclaim and reassert black Identity and celebrate African American culture in order to challenge the pervading racism of this era.
The creation of art and literature would serve to empower the African Americans whose lives were affected significantly by the era of slavery and other racial discrimination. Harlem was the ultra centre of this African American revival where poets, musicians, writers and other artists expressed themselves through art. When It comes to the overall structure of the poem it Is noticeable that there Is no clear division of stanzas. Perhaps this is to reinforce the melodious flow of the blues music. The poem has a great sense of musicality. Throughout the poem there are references to the movement of the musician: “Rocking back and forth… (line 2), “He did a lazy sway… ” (lines 6-7), “Swaying to and fro… ” (line 12). This lazy back and forth movement is reflected in the actual structure of the poem as the length and indentations of the lines and the pace at which they are to be read vary. In fact the whole poem borrows the rhythmic structure and improvisational rhythms from blues music. The many rhyming couplets and the rhyming triplet lend the poem a certain regularity whereas the interjections or cries such as “O Blues'”, “Sweet Blues'”, “O Blues” (lines 1 1, 14 and 16 respectively) are evidence of improvisation or irregularity often found in Jazz or blues music.
Also, the inclusion of lyrics in lines 19-22 and 25-30 changes the flow and rhyme scheme of the poem and gives the poem more heartsickness of a blues song as these Interjections and lyrics are typical of blues music. “Typically the blues originated as an expression of individual feeling, a personal statement of utter simplicity, perhaps consisting of a single line repeated and repeated again. ” An example of this can be found within lines 25-30: “l got the Weary Blues … Got the Weary Blues” and “And can’t be satisfied… And can’t be satisfied”.
These lyrics are reminiscent of so-called ‘one-verse songs’ “which meant the entire song was based on the repetition of a single line. For field hands and holler’, a lonely, rambling shout which would echo round the cotton fields. The holler had its roots in slavery time… They were little more than a strident lament, in which every phrase was exploited purely for its sound qualities in the empty air. ” Another musical element of this poem is the use of syncopated rhythm. “Syncopation is a type of rhythm. It is the shifting of accents and stress from what are normally strong beats to weak beats…. Humiliation often involves playing one rhythm against another in such a way that listeners want to move, nod heads, clap or tap hands, or dance. ” An example of this syncopated rhythm is the following lines: “Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool/ He played that sad rag tune like a musical fool. ‘ Sweet Blues! ” (lines 12-14) The inclusion of these typical features and of Blues music helps in lending the poem its musicality and therefore helps it achieve the same mood of a blues song, I. E. A lonely, lamenting, sorrowful mood.
The first few lines set the scene of the blues musician singing and playing the piano somewhere on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. The setting is somewhat lonely, sad and cold: “By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light” (line 5). This setting further assists in articulating the themes of sorrow and hardship that the musician is expressing through his music. It is interesting to examine the first three lines in greater detail. It is unclear to whom the first 2 lines refer. Who is “rocking back and forth to a mellow croon”, the artist or the audience?
This ambiguity can be interpreted to “show the relationship between the singer and the audience, the dual effect of the music on the performer and on the listener. The singer is droning and swaying as he performs, but so is the audience as it listens… Here, then, Hughes suggests that the blues offer a sort of communal experience, that they express the feelings of not only the artist, but the whole community. ” The blues therefore serves as a “matrix” for the articulation of personal and collective experience as the grief and suffering that the artist sings of is at once his own and that of the whole African American community.
It is music that their people have created as an affirmation of their identity and dignity in the face of racism. The community therefore has a deep understanding of the music and feels it with Just as much emotion as the musician himself. The diction employed is another striking aspect of the poem and contributes greatly to the lamenting and sorrowful mood. Words such as “drowsy’, “mellow’ and “lazy’ (lines 1, 2 and 617 respectively) evoke a ‘Jazzy atmosphere and perhaps even hint at how the poem should be read.
Words such as “croon”, “dull”, “Weary’, “sad”, “melancholy’, “moan” found throughout the poem all highlight the theme of sadness and sorrow that the musician is expressing through his music. Following: “In all forms of creative endeavourer, the discerning perceiver must be aware of what is missing, as well as what is present. This is why in poetry simplicity is paradoxically more complex than complexity… ” This observation should be taken into consideration with regard to this poem and its subject matter. Blues music may seem naive and one-dimensional to some due to its simple diction and rhythm.
What lies behind this music is on the other hand very complex and multi-dimensional; blues music carries a lot of political and historical weight as it is a means of expressing the sorrow and anguish experienced by an entire race. Even the countless repetitions found in Blues lyrics and the seemingly simple exclamations such as “O Blues! (as discussed before) carry much weight as all the pain and suffering is distilled in these few words. The last few lines of the poem take on an even more somber and serious tone as there are two references to death: “And I wish that I had died,” (line 30) and “He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead. (line 35) These last lines describe how the night comes to an end and the singer stops singing and goes to bed with the Weary Blues “(echoing) through his head” (line 34). The musician is then said to have “slept like a rock or a man that’s dead. ” (line 35) which is perhaps indicative of how exhausting ND strenuous playing and singing the weary blues can be as the musician pours out his heart and soul into his music and therefore sleeps like a dead man. This could however be interpreted as somewhat more negative.
Perhaps what these last few lines are saying is that life is futile and unavailing. Perhaps what is suggested here is that the blues act as a shelter or artistic escapism for the musician but when the music in which the artist tries to fight against his troubles and pain stops, he is left with nothing more than the harsh reality and the Weary Blues of everyday life “(echo) wrought his head” (line 34). Finally, it becomes clear that Longboats Hughes skillfully manages to weave the rhythm, feeling and mood of blues music into this poem.