Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes.
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.
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Coming from a black man’s soul.
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.
We are making some efforts in these times to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) on our platform as a way of raising awareness in our small way and combating the whitewashed canon. Still, Hughes has long been recognized as a highly influential poet and founder of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, and is one of my favorites not only because we share a birthday!
I chose this poem in particular because I love the way it really evokes the music, even when you just read it silently. Its use of rhyme and rhythm make me want to dance! This one is so poignant in the time of Covid-19 because music is a big part of what helps me get through any day, but even more so when I am basically alone most of the time. The speaker here also seems to treasure the escape from his despair and loneliness proffered by the music. Hughes‘ vast talent with words and rhythm really come out in this sensuous depiction of the Harlem Renaissance, an important period in which artistic Black voices were raised in a clamorous appeal for wider acknowledgement.
This poem and the reading are also the basis for an exercise in reading and analyzing poetry for rhyme and meter. Check it out!