The Weary Blues of Langston Hughes

American Poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

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.
     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.

“Too Blue”

This Poem Is the Essence of the Blues

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.

 

“Iron In The Blood Of The People”

Poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

I like this poem by Langston Hughes, which is entitled “Kids Who Die.” Unfortunately, it’s as relevant today as when it was first written.

Kids Who Die

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.

Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together.  \1

Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht \2
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.

\1 – Angelo Herndon was an African-American labor organizer arrested in Atlanta for insurrection for attempting to organize industrial workers in 1932.

\2 – Liebknecht – Karl Leibknecht was a German socialist who was murdered by paramilitary forces for his role in the failed Spartacist Uprising of 1919.