Explication of The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

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During the 1920s, there was an explosion in culture and arts among African Americans in Harlem, New York. Harlem renaissances were popular during this time period. Langston Hughes was one of the most influential figures in this blast. Hughes, known for his unique wordplay, wrote one of his most widely praised works, "The tired blues," in 1926. This article attempts to decipher the essence of "the tired blues" by reflecting on the poem's historical significance as well as exploring the literary instruments used.

This poem, I think, is about the hardships of black people. The poems follow the events of a black blues singer. Langston notes, “Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon I heard a Negro play.” The tone in the poem indicate that, with his “melancholy tone” and his playing that comes “from a black man’s soul,” indicates depression or sadness. My assertion is that Langston is aiming to explore the struggles and sadness experienced by black people. The poem explores the sorry lives that most African-Americans lead because of racial segregation. However, the poem can also be termed as celebration of arts. The singer uses music to express their emotion turmoil as well as reflect their perseverance, “And far into the night he crooned that tune.” Despite the earlier assertion that he is tired. “He did a lazy sway”

The 1920s period in America experienced serious racial strife, especially against blacks, which exists till today. Despite this period being after the civil war there was still significant unacceptance of blacks as equals. Like most poets Langston must have written about the world around him, with an aim of voicing African Americans struggles. As an African-American writer, Langston must have acted in solidarity with his fellow blacks. This presumably with an aim of changing perception about black talents and ability in arts. It is also important to note that most of Langston’s works were cantered on the themes of inequality, resilience, pride, hope and music.

The use of Blues music also expresses a critical historical context. Traditionally blues music was sung by plantation workers who were slaves in the south. However, it was not until the 1920s that blues spread to the mid-eastern and other areas in the North such as New York. Hughes incorporated blues music since it articulated the worries of the common man in a simple and direct manner. Loneliness, despair, frustration, and sense of longing are some of the themes that were predominantly confronted by blues poetry of the time.

Langston uses imagery to paint the picture of an atmosphere that is laid-back, dull and dark by the use of words such as “drowsy,” “mellow,” “pale,” “dull,” and “melancholy,”. Even the lighting of the street is not enough to brighten up the surroundings “the pale dull pallor of an old gas light”. The obscurity of the light, coupled with the night’s darkness, evokes a sense of lethargy in the environment. The singer has a unique talent that makes a piano “moan with melody” assuming human nature. the musician can not only make the reader experience his pain, he can also influence the feelings of an inanimate object. In that era, the idea of black and white creating harmony would not only have frowned at but ridiculed, the singer has made it possible by producing the melodic tune that comes out of the piano. Which paints a picture of possibility for this far-fetched occurrence.

Another key poetic device that is very predominant in the poem is repetition. Repetition simply refers to when a phrase, sentence or key words keeps appearing severally. “weary blues” uses this poetic device in very many instances. For instance, in the sixth line the phrase, “he did a lazy sway…” is repeated which is presumably done in order to create rhyme as well as emphasises the tiredness or physical appearance of the singer. This phrase helps lay credence in the assertation that most African American are in a precarious condition of sadness and struggle. There is also significant repetition of the blues music which helps to position blues music at the centre of the poem. As well as convey the emotions associated with the music. Other instance of repetition includes in the beginning of the second stanza where the word thump is repeated in a bid to express the gusto which represents the fight taken by the struggling black man to redeem their dignity in the face of segregation.

Langston also employs the use of alliteration to create rhyme in the poem and convey the emotions on the poem. Alliteration basically refers to the presence of similar sound at the beginning of closely connected words. In the first line “Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,” one can clearly identify the repetition of sound o. this can be used to identify with the mimic sound of yawning highlighting the condition of the singer. Traditionally, yawns are mostly associated with hunger or tiredness. Painting the picture of a hungry and tired African –American society.

In conclusion, it is clearly evident the “weary blues” is a poem about the struggles of an African-American in the early 20th century. The poem is set in the background of the Harlem Renaissance and is thus a celebration of black culture and arts, with a significant emphasis on blues music. The poem also employs numerous poetic devices such as imagery, repetition and alliteration to portray the condition of African –American conditions as well as beef up the musicality in the poem.


Hughes, Langston. (1926). The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. “The Nation”.

October 20, 2022

Literature History

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