Langston Hughes ~ The Weary Blues
There are two kind of impressions that ¡§the blues¡¨ gives me. The first is the music blues, from which people usually associate it with the music specialized by black musicians. It gives me a 1920¡¦s to 1030¡¦s feeling. I imagine a smoky bar with people sitting casually enjoying their music, dancing or chat. The second feeling that ¡§the blues¡¨ gives me is the melancholy that the color blue gives me. The color blue itself carries the sense of sadness. Combining both impressions, plus the adjective, weary, the title brings me a low mood before I read the poem. Besides, ¡§the Weary Blues¡¨ shows the state of mind of the personage in the poem, the Negro, right at the first sight that readers can see. The title is a foreshadowing of the atmosphere of the poem.
While reading the poem, I seem to hear the music from the old piano and the singing from the black musician. I can also see him sitting on the rickety stool playing the ivory white piano with his ¡§ebony hands¡¨ in the smoky bar. The depiction of the action and the scene gives me a very clear picture of the scene in the poem, even the sorrow of the black man is revealed strongly. The main idea of the poem is very clear, which is the moaning of a black musician showing his sadness through his music. The musician is the contemporary representative of the Negro. What he¡¦s feeling melancholy about is what the rest of the black men¡¦s being undergone. The racial discrimination made the life of the black people at that time suffered from unfair treating.
The usage of the sound effects of the words in the poem contributes to the successful established atmosphere of the poem. There are words with long vowel sounds, like /on/, /au/, /u/, /ai/, /i/, /o/ and /£`/. These sounds prolong pronunciation of the words and help creating a deep and low mood penetrating the whole poem.
The first stanza:
In the first two lines, ¡§droning¡¨ and ¡§drowsy¡¨ both carry the feeling of laziness and slowness. ¡§Rocking back and forth¡¨ makes me think of a rocking chair, swing back and forth slowly. ¡§[A] mellow croon¡¨ is a smooth and soft song or singing in low tune. ¡§Tune¡¨ and ¡§croon¡¨ rhyme. Simply from the first two lines, a lazy, deep and a little bit of sad feeling is created. Line 4 to line 8, the environment of the bar is introduced. The time is in the night. The place is a bar on Lenox Avenue. Lenox Avenue can be a poor part of the city with blues playing bars gathered. (I think at that time, 1926, most of the blues musicians were black people.) In this case, the setting fit the mood of the personage, melancholy. ¡§Pale¡¨ and ¡§pallor¡¨ mean the same dull color of the gas light, dead, unclear and smoky. ¡§He did lazy sway¡K./ He did lazy sway¡K.¡¨ The repetition of the two lines is like the rocking back and forth of the mellow croon, echoing the second line. In line 8, what the musician is singing and playing is the Weary Blues is like that the black man is singing out his ¡§blue¡¨ at the same time. Line 9 and 10, ¡§ebony¡¨ contrasts with ¡§ivory¡¨ just like the musician¡¦s complexion, black, contrasting with the complexion of the white people. ¡§He made that poor piano moan with melody.¡¨ The word ¡§made¡¨ contains the meaning of force and unwillingness, and ¡§moan¡¨ is the low sound of suffering. The melody is actually the tune of the black man¡¦s sorrow, which is his life style that he¡¦s forced to receive under the racial discriminating society.
Line 12 is echoing to the second line. The form of the two lines are the same. It¡¦s like a parallel. The two lines function the same way. ¡§Rickety stool¡¨ and ¡§raggy tune¡¨ are implying the low quality of life of the black people. ¡§Sweet Blues!¡¨ This is an irony, because the blues here is bitter and sad not sweet. If the blues is sweet, that must be the reason of pretending to be a musical fool, hiding in the music and avoiding thinking about the real life. The fifth line emphasizes that the blues is the black man¡¦s deepest sorrow. The song that the Negro is singing is about his loneliness and sorrow. He feels being isolated by the white people. Therefore, he frowns.
To me, the form of the poem from line 1 to line 18 is like the keyboard of the piano. There are the black keys and the white keys; the black and the white keys are like Negro and the white. (Though the poem is not exactly the same as the real piano keyboard, the feature is alike.)
The second stanza:
¡§Thump, thump, thump¡¨ in the first line deepens the down mood. From the lyrics of the blues in the second stanza, from line 3 to 8, the black man shows his dissatisfaction for his life directly. He even says that he wishes that he¡¦s dead. In line 9, he keeps playing the piano. The dark night accompanies his melancholy croon; it¡¦s like that his grieving is mixed with the night and will not fade away. The stars and the moon add the sad atmosphere into the poem. In line 11 and 12, the weary blues is still hanging in the black man¡¦s mind even when he¡¦s asleep. It¡¦s like echoes, repeating in his head. The man is in such a deep sleep that he¡¦s like a rock or a dead person. The last line can also be referred to the black man¡¦s wish, ¡§And I wish that I had died.¡¨
Through the words, a deep helplessness is revealed. The African Americans do feel dissatisfied with the society, but they can not do anything. Therefore, they expresses their feelings through the blues; however, their sorrow makes the blues become ¡§the Weary Blues.¡¨ The music mixing with sadness gives people bitter and sweet feelings. Only those who are in the situation can feel the soul of the music.