In Langston Hughes’s poem titled “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 analyse the poem by paying particular attention to the rhythmic structure, setting, diction and mood and how these 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 1920s and 1930s, 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 cultural 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...
Bibliography: Giles Oakley, The Devil’s Music: A History of the Blues
Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues (1925)
P.D. Roberts, How Poetry Works
What is Jazz? (Cuesheet from John F. Kennedy Centre)
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