Great poetry is not necessarily white. Sometimes it comes from something deeper, like the centuries-old suppression of the black man in America. It becomes even more interesting when it is tied to the blues, as this poem is:
The Weary Blues
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.
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.
Where is the real artistic genius of America to be found? Sad to say, it’s not literature. It’s not painting or sculpture. Near as I can say, what the United States will be most remembered for is music—not only jazz, blues, soul, bluegrass, rockabilly, zydeco, gospel, country & western, but much of rock & roll as well. Names like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, and a host of others will answer the question: What has America produced that will stand the test of time?
As a self-proclaimed intellectual, I am aware that such a title cuts no mustard in the U S of A. Far from it. It’s almost a term of opprobrium.
Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966)—A Favorite of Mine
Curiously, in such a racist country as ours, it’s the only place that comfortably cuts through the racial divide.Black artists copied from the whites, though not nearly as much as white artists copied from African-Americans.
Of course, there is no Nobel Prize for music. It registers in the heart—and, typically American, at the Box Office.
I have been paging through Kevin Young’s Everyman collection of Blues Poems and came across this one by Landston Hughes. Mind you: It’s not the way I’m feeling right now, but it is a beautiful statement of what the blues can feel like when it lurches into your life. It’s called “Too Blue”:
I got those sad old weary blues.
I don’t know where to turn.
I don’t know where to go.
Nobody cares about you
When you sink so low.
What shall I do?
What shall I say?
Shall I take a gun
And put myself away?
I wonder if One bullet would do?
As hard as my head is,
It would probably take two.
But I ain’t got
Neither bullet nor gun—
And I’m too blue
To look for one.