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The Weary Blues

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English Literature

The Weary Blues (1925) focuses on a singular piano player performing in an establishment on Lenox Avenue, a street in the heart of Harlem. The voice of the poem describes the musician as he performs and includes some of his lyrics, which represent the struggles of the African American people during the time. Using inspiration from the Blues, alliteration, and carefully chosen diction, Langston Hughes brings to light the plight of African Americans and shows the strength of a people.

The Weary Blues at a glance

PoemThe Weary Blues
PoetLangston Hughes
Published1925
Formfree-form
Structure2 long stanzas
Meteropen meter
Rhyme schemerhyming couplets
ThemeWorries of the African American people
Moodsad, hopeless
ImagerySound devices and detailed descriptions
Poetic devicesSimile, assonance, consonance, rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, diction, personification, repetition
Overall meaningThe poem discusses the strife and struggle of African Americans as told through a piano-playing blues musician.

The context of “The Weary Blues

The Weary Blues is a poem by African American poet Langston Hughes, written in 1925 during the Harlem Renaissance.

James Mercer Langston Hughes was raised by his grandmother until the age of thirteen when he moved to live with his mother. He worked several different jobs, including as a busboy, before he made a name for himself. For a brief period after high school, he lived in Mexico with his father. Langston Hughes was a key influential figure during the Harlem Renaissance, serving as a resounding voice for those experiencing discrimination.

Hughes uses the blues, a music genre that originated in the Deep South in the 1860s, to reach his audience and unite his readers. The original subject matter in blues songs expressed the pain, suffering, struggles, and hopes of the African American people regarding slavery, sharecropping, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination. As African Americans moved North, the blues evolved into a celebration of a rich culture that survived inequities.

The Harlem Renaissance was a period that spanned the 1910s through the mid-1930s, when African Americans moved from the South to the North, bringing their culture and beliefs with them. The Harlem neighborhood in New York was a social, musical, artistic, and culinary context that celebrated African American culture. The result was a collection of unique literature, music, art, and plays that echoed the lives, struggles, and dreams of the African American community.

Summary of The Weary Blues

The Weary Blues is a poem about the pain and suffering conveyed through the blues and how African Americans used this musical genre as an outlet to express their pain and struggle. By implementing elements of the blues throughout the poem, Hughes adds a strong musical and cultural element to help readers connect to it. The main figure is a black blues singer playing the piano in an establishment in Harlem. His song is about his personal experience and especially his suffering in a racist society. The message is one that most African Americans and any individual who has suffered oppression can relate to.

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.

The poetic devices used in The Weary Blues

Poetic devices are tools poets use to create rhyme, rhythm, meaning, and mood, and to convey tone in their poetry.

In his poem The Weary Blues, Hughes employs several poetic and literary devices to help establish a somber mood and emulate a blues song. Borrowing elements from the blues genre, Hughes establishes an easy rhythm and beat in this open-form poem, using assonance and consonance, rhyming couplets, onomatopoeia, and repetition throughout.

"The Weary Blues": Assonance

Hughes uses assonance to create a certain rhythm in the poem.

Assonance is the repetition of the vowel sound in a set of words appearing close to each other in a poem or some other text.

An example of this is found in line 13, as the musician plays his sad, raggy tune for the audience. The assonance used here helps to provide a musical beat. Additionally, the diction used in this description emphasizes the musicians discontent by using personification. The tune is sad and raggy, which are words that can be used to describe the piano player as well. Hughes likely chose words with the long a sound to draw out the vocalization of the words and slow the pace of the poem down.

"The Weary Blues": Consonance

Hughes uses consonance to maintain a beat similar to that of the blues throughout the poem.

Consonance is the repetition of the initial consonant sound within a set of words appearing close to each other in a poem or some other text.

An example of this is found in line 1, as the piano player begins droning a drowsy tune. The hard d sound at the onset of the poem establishes a solid beat to the blues song/poem, much like a set of drums or cymbals would. Hughes uses the sound device of consonance to emulate musical instruments. The words droning and drowsy immediately refer back to the poems title and remind the audience that the song, and the musician, are tired because the song itself is sleepy. The repetition also adds emphasis and emulates musical syncopation.

"The Weary Blues": Rhyming couplets

Hughes uses rhyming couplets throughout the poem to establish a cohesive tempo and link ideas together.

A rhyming couplet is a pair of consecutive lines that both end in words that rhyme together, called end rhyme.

An example of this is seen in the last two lines of the poem, as the blues echoes through [the piano players] head and he sleeps like a rock or a man thats dead. The couplet provides a perfunctory end to the blues song, making the audience feel dissatisfied with the abrupt ending. The reader feels connected to the Black blues player, as he too has feelings of dissatisfaction. The end rhyme joins the two lines together and links the idea that his song will be playing even after he goes to sleepand long after he is dead. The battle for equality, especially during the Harlem Renaissance but also today, is endless and echoes on, like the piano players song.

"The Weary Blues": Onomatopoeia

Hughes uses onomatopoeia to imitate musical sounds and the heartbeat of a man, giving his soulful song strength.

Onomatopoeia is a sound device where the words used imitate the sounds they are describing.

An example of this can be seen in line 23, as his foot goes thump, thump, thump on the floor, keeping rhythm to his tune and his heartache. The sound of the musicians foot-tapping is reminiscent of the percussions in a blues song. The onomatopoetic thumping is a stronger sound than a mere tapping. The stronger bass associated with a thump lends an element of power to the song played. The thump also emulates the sound of a heart beating, showing that his song has a life of its own and will continue longer than he will. The song will give life each time the poem is read and will help to immortalize the struggle, even after the melody in the piano players mind fades.

"The Weary Blues": Repetition

Hughes uses repetition for emphasis.

Repetition is when the same words or phrases are repeated more than once throughout a piece of literature.

The repetition of the phrase cant be satisfied in lines 26 and 28 shows the piano players deep discontent with his social and economic situation. Hughes uses repetition to highlight the frustration the piano player, African Americans, and all people who are oppressed feel. The blues players hopeless feelings are met with indifference, as his audience listens to his song and does not take action to alleviate his struggle. The musician cant be satisfied because nothing can bring back or return what has been taken from him. The musicians humanity, pride, happiness, and desire to live have been stripped from him.

Analysis of The Weary Blues

The Weary Blues echoes the worries of African Americans while celebrating a part of the culture that many identify with and look to when in need. Setting the speed and mood at the onset of the poem, the poetic voice begins by using a specific form of consonance called alliteration.

"The Weary Blues": Alliteration to establish the rhythm

Alliteration is when the same consonant sound at the stressed part of the word is repeated in several words.

The hard dr sound in the first line, Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, mimics the sound of a drum and begins the rhythm that will continue for the rest of the poem. Line two, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, repeats the hard ck sound followed by a smoother r. These meticulously chosen words work in unison to imitate the sounds and the melodies traditionally heard in blues music and further establish a solid tempo for the poem.

"The Weary Blues": Diction to enhance the setting

Lines 3-5 tell the reader the musician is a Negro and provide the setting: Down on Lenox Avenue the other night / By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light.

Lenox Avenue was a central street in Harlem, which served as a cultural meeting place for African Americans, Latinos, Spaniards, and other individuals from diverse cultures. Using music and food as a way to bond, people from different backgrounds found a commonality and helped influence the Harlem Renaissance.

The diction, or word choice, pale dull pallor, emphasizes a lack of vibrancy and creates a melancholy mood. The musician does a lazy sway to his own tune, those Weary Blues, signifying his exasperation. Describing the piano keys but also symbolizing much deeper social and political struggles, line 9, With his ebony hands on each ivory key, highlights the issues of racism and discrimination he struggles with by contrasting the colors ebony and ivory.

The Weary Blues person playing piano StudySmarterThe piano keys are referenced to highlight the issues of racism, pixabay.

"The Weary Blues": Personification to convey mood

Using both alliteration and personification, we see the poor piano moan with melody in line 10. The p sound emphasizes not the status of the piano but the emotion traveling from the musician through to the instrument, revealing the mental, emotional, economic, and social status he suffers from.

In lines 12-15, the speaker describes the musical fool sitting on his rickety stool playing a sad raggy tune from a black mans soul. The characterization further establishes the musicians fatigue over the troubles he faces.

"The Weary Blues": Repetition and simile for emphasis

Lines 19-22 and 25-30 detail the actual song that the deep song voice crooned. Through the use of the repetition of Aint got nobody, we learn that the piano player feels alone, dejected, discarded, and hopeless as he resigns himself to putting his troubles on the shelf. The onomatopoetic Thump, thump, thump of his foot on the floor maintains the poems rhythm, imitates a drum, and reminds the audience of a heartbeat. Immediately after that, we learn how dissatisfied the musician is, as he wishes he had died.

The poem ends with everyone going home and leaves a lasting impression through the use of simile as the singer went to bed and slept like a rock, or a man thats dead. The last line, comparing the singer to a man thats dead and a rock, is a reminder of the damaging impact racism can have, but it also shows his unyielding determination for a better life as he struggles on each day.

A simile is a figurative comparison between two unlike things, using the words like, as, or than. The comparison shows a similarity between the two things or ideas and adds detail.

The theme and meaning of The Weary Blues

The Weary Blues focuses on the resilience of the African American people, shares the impact that mistreatment has on the oppressed, and crosses racial boundaries by showing how music, the blues, can have the power to heal the soul and provide support when no one else is around. It humanizes the suffering experienced by African Americans and proves that the effects are detrimental to mental health. In the poem, the piano player speaks as a voice for all African Americans, and, although he feels alone, his song helps the audience feel connected to him, and each other.

The Weary Blues musician playing saxophone StudySmarter"The Weary Blues" can be considered jazz poetry. Pexels

The Weary Blues - Key takeaways

  • As a key figure and influencer of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes was a voice for his people and wrote much of his literature to give African Americans a voice.
  • The Weary Blues was written in 1925 and serves as a reminder of the mental, physical, and emotional harm that discrimination, segregation, and racism cause.
  • The poem is an example of how individuals can use music and the arts to get through difficult times and overcome heartache.
  • Langston Hughes uses poetic devices, such as simile, assonance, consonance, rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, diction, personification, and repetition, to help convey his message.

The Weary Blues

“The Weary Blues” expresses the pain and discontent caused by racism and discrimination.

Langston Hughes wrote “The Weary Blues” to give African Americans a voice and establish a platform to inspire change.

“The Weary Blues” humanizes the African American experience and celebrates their resilience and culture through using the blues.

“The Weary Blues” is about a Black blues piano player in the heart of Harlem, who sings about the emotional and mental effects discrimination has on him, making him wish for death.

“The Weary Blues” is a free-verse poem that emulates the musical blues genre and is often referred to as jazz poetry.

Final The Weary Blues Quiz

Question

"He slept like a rock" is an example of what figure of speech?

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Answer

Simile

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Question

What music genre influenced "The Weary Blues" poem?

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Answer

the Blues

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Question

Who is the subject of the poem?

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Answer

An African-American pianist or musician

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Question

What year was "The Weary Blues" written? 

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Answer

1925

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Question

Who raised Langston Hughes until he was 13 years old?

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Answer

His grandmother

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Question

What is Langston Hughes's full name? 

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Answer

James Mercer Langston Hughes

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Question

What is the setting in the poem "The Weary Blues"?

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Answer

Lenox Avenue in Harlem

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Question

How does Hughes add rhythm to the open form poem? 

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Answer

He uses sound devices like alliteration and onomatopoeia.

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Question

What does the musician in "The Weary Blues" wish for?

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Answer

He wishes he had died

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Question

What is one theme in "The Weary Blues"?

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Answer

Possible answers include:

The damaging effects of racism.

The power of music to help an individual face life troubles. 

The resilience African-Americans showed when battling segregation and discrimination. 

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Question

What line or lines tell the audience that the pianist feels isolated? 

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Answer

Lines 19 and 20 

"Ain't got nobody in all this world, / Aint got nobody but ma self"

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Question

What is the last way the musician is characterized in "The Weary Blues"?

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Answer

He slept like a rock, or a man that's dead.

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Question

What is one detail that tells us the musician doesn't have a lot of money? 

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Answer

"rickety stool" 

"sad raggy tune"

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Question

What is this line an example of?

"He made the poor piano moan with melody"

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Answer

personification

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Question

The first line of the poem, "Droning a drowsy syncopated tune" helps establish the ________ of the poem.

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Answer

rhythm, mood, or tone are all acceptable responses

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