R. Baxter Miller: On "The Weary Blues"

The performance in the title poem [. . . .] completes the ritualistic conversion from Black American suffering into epic communion. On 1 May 1925, during a banquet at an "elegant" Fifth Avenue restaurant in New York City, the poem won a prize from Opportunity magazine, where it subsequently appeared. The thirty-five-line lyric presents a singer and pianist who plays on Harlem's Lenox Avenue one night. Having performed well in the club, he goes to bed, as the song still sounds in his mind: "I got de weary blues / And I can't be satisfied." In the "dull pallor of an old gas light," his ebony hands have played on the ivory keys. During the "lazy sway" from the piano stool, he has patted the floor with his feet, struck a few chords, and then sung some more. Finally, he sleeps "like a rock or a man that's dead," the artistic spirit exhausted.

His performance clearly implies several dramatic actions. While one sets the dynamic playing--the Black self-affirmation against what fades--a second presents a vital remaking of the Black self-image. A third shows the transcendence through racial stereotype into lyrical style. From the dramatic situation of the player, both musical as well as performed, the poem imposes isolation and loneliness yet the refusal to accept them. The song marks a metonym for the human imagination. In a deftness often overlooked, Hughes uses anaphora to narrate an imperial self so as to sustain the blues stanza as countermelody and ironic understatement: "Ain't got nobody in all this world, / Ain't got nobody but ma self." What most complements the lyric skill is the dramatic movement of feeling. In narrative distancing his speakers achieve a double identification.

From The Art and Language of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 1989 by The University Press of Kentucky.


Title R. Baxter Miller: On "The Weary Blues" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author R. Baxter Miller Criticism Target Langston Hughes
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Art and Language of Langston Hughes
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