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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The speaker of “The Weary Blues” pays close attention to the musician’s body movements. His attention to movement is most evident in the first stanza, where he references how the musician sways as he plays. For example, halfway through the stanza (lines 6–7), the speaker comments:
He did a lazy sway. . . .
He did a lazy sway. . . .
The repetition of this line, along with the use of an ellipsis at the end of each iteration, communicates the slow and measured pace of the musician’s rocking motion. The lethargic rhythm of the swaying suggests that the musician lost himself deeply, hypnotized by the very music he was playing. Significantly, the musician’s swaying is infectious, as suggested in the poem’s opening lines (lines 1–3):
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
At first glance, the speaker appears to be describing the actions of the musician. That is, it seems like it’s the musician who is droning, rocking, and crooning. But the third line reveals that it’s the speaker who is the grammatical subject of the sentence. In other words, it’s not the musician but the speaker who’s droning, rocking, and crooning. Just as the musician is lost in the act of playing the blues, the speaker is transported in the act of listening—and swaying—to it.
The speaker’s references to sound in the poem describe blues music in terms of droning and moaning. In the opening lines, for example, the speaker refers to the music as a “droning . . . tune” (line 1). The droning tune is accompanied by a “mellow croon” (line 2), where croon refers to a way of singing or humming in a low voice. This opening description characterizes blue music as being soft, quiet, and even hypnotizing in its effect. Yet despite how mellow and smooth the music may sound, the speaker also emphasizes the sadness and pain that give the music its peculiar soulfulness. The sadness and pain seem to come straight from the musician’s hands as he plays the piano (lines 9–10):
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
In an example of personification, the speaker describes the piano as “moan[ing] with melody,” a phrase that powerfully expresses the pain and sadness channeled in the music. The speaker affirms his sense of the music’s sorrow when he comments on the “melancholy tone” (line 17) of the musician’s “sad raggy tune” (line 13). Overall, then, the speaker’s descriptions of the music’s droning and moaning sound symbolizes the deep sorrow that gives the blues its name.
Weariness is a key motif in the poem, as indicated by the title Hughes chose for it. Based on the speaker’s description, blues music is far from upbeat. Everything he says about the music he heard the previous night suggests that it was droning, mellow, and even lulling. In fact, the speaker opens the poem by explicitly referring to the music as “drowsy.” Blues, then, is a form of music characterized by a certain weariness. But perhaps even more than the music itself, it is the musician whom the speaker considers weary. For instance, he identifies a certain lethargy in the musician’s “lazy sway,” which he references once each in lines 6 and 7. Then, in the closing lines of the poem, the speaker thinks about the musician going home, drained after his gig, and getting into bed. The speaker imagines that this man is so profoundly tired that he might even die in his sleep. If the musician really is as weary as the speaker suggests, it’s not just because he’s physically tired. Indeed, the musician isn’t just weary—he’s world-weary. That is, he’s existentially exhausted by the legacy of subjugation and oppression that form the sorrowful soul of the blues.