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“The Weary Blues” doesn’t make use of a regular metrical scheme. Instead, the poem has a flexible and frequently syncopated meter that mimics the subtly shifting rhythms of blues music. Blues musicians commonly use syncopation to breathe life into their compositions. On the most basic level, syncopation refers to a time displacement that causes a rhythm to sound off beat in relation to the underlying rhythm of the music. Typically, blues songs are written with a consistent four-beat measure, but the musicians don’t play to this strict beat. Instead, they play with a swinging rhythm. But no matter how much variation there is in the played rhythm, the listener can still “hear” the background rhythm of the four-beat bar. The counterpoint between these two rhythms is what creates syncopation. Syncopation of this kind gives blues music, as well as other forms of jazz, its uniquely dynamic—even elastic—sense of rhythm.
Syncopation appears everywhere in “The Weary Blues.” Although the individual lines in the poem range between two and fourteen syllables in length, most lines have an underlying four-beat rhythm. When heard against this four-beat background, the rhythmic variations in the speaker’s language create a sense of syncopation. As an example, consider the opening couplet:
Drown-ing a drow-sy syn-co-pa-ted tune,
Rock-ing back and forth to a mel-low croon.
The syllables marked in bold indicate the four main beats in each line. Although both lines clearly have four main beats, the space between each beat constantly varies. In the first line, the first beat is followed by two unstressed syllables, the second beat is followed by one, and the third beat is followed by three. The varied number of syllables between each beat creates the sense that the line’s rhythm is constantly speeding up and slowing down, even as it plays against the basic four-beat background. The second line quoted here has the same number of syllables as the first (i.e., ten), but the syllables are arranged differently, thereby establishing a distinct rhythm. Although a few lines in the poem drop the underlying four-beat rhythm, the basic form of syncopation established in the opening lines continues to the end.