The Weary Blues

March 7, 2006 at 10:21 pm Leave a comment

Langston Hughes

Listen

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.

Langston Hughes has always been, for me, the poet who best captures the authentic sound of jazz. Hughes’ poems are the essence of jazz – with their rhythm, their colour, their sense of improvisation, their singing combination of wit and soul, the way they combine simple, everyday speech with an almost haiku-like conciseness. To read a Hughes poem is to imagine yourself sitting on a lonely fire-escape listening to Coltrane.

No poem of his better exemplifies the rhythm that Hughes brings to his poetry than ‘The Weary Blues’. Ever since I first read it, this has always struck me as an amazing poem, simply because of the way it manages to make you hear the song it describes, so that just reading the words on the page you can imagine the exact piano notes, the precise pitch of the singer’s voice [1]. Brilliant, just brilliant.

You can find another Hughes poem (well, several others if you choose to look) as well as a biography of Hughes on Minstrels.

[1] The other poem that does this brilliantly, of course, is Browning’s Toccata of Galuppi’s.

[2] Hughes recording with Charles Mingus here.

Entry filed under: English, Langston Hughes. Tags: .

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