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Assonance and consonance are sibling concepts in that they both refer to the repetition of certain sounds in adjacent or nearby words. Assonance specifically refers to the repetition of vowel sounds, whereas consonance refers to the repetition of consonant sounds. In “The Weary Blues,” Hughes uses both assonance and consonance in subtle and complex ways that help create the poem’s distinct musicality. For a good example that showcases the simultaneous use of assonance and consonance, consider this couplet from the first stanza (lines 4–5):
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light.
The examples of assonance in this passage have been marked with unitalicized text. Notably, there are two different vowel sounds that repeat in these two lines: Os and As. Though there are more O sounds in the first line and more A sounds in the second line, examples of each vowel sound appear in both lines. Just as there are two repeating vowel sounds, there are also two repeating consonant sounds: Ls and Ps. Hughes introduces the L sound in the first line, but most of the L and P sounds appear in the second line. Across these two lines, then, Hughes employs assonance and consonance to create subtle musical effects that unify the lines as a couplet.
The term oxymoron (OCK-see-MOR-on) refers to a particular type of paradox in which two terms that would ordinarily be understood as oppositional are paired together. Phrases like “awfully good,” “pretty ugly,” and “crash landing” all provide good examples of oxymoron. In “The Weary Blues,” the speaker uses oxymoron in his attempt to describe the unusual way blues music affects him. Halfway through the first stanza, for example, the speaker describes the music played by the pianist as “Sweet Blues!” (line 14). Considering that blues music originated in the work songs of African-descended slaves, and so typically emphasized pain and suffering, it’s oxymoronic to describe blues as “sweet.” Indeed, the speaker showcases the melancholy tone of blues when he quotes lyrics from one of the songs he heard the previous night: “Ain’t got nobody in all this world, / Ain’t got nobody but ma self” (lines 19–20). But despite the pain and suffering blues music channels, the speaker clearly derives pleasure from the musician’s performance. The music offers the speaker a meaningful opportunity to connect with the history of his people, which, though tragic, is also “sweet.”
“The Weary Blues” concludes with a powerful but strange example of simile. Recall that a simile (SIH-muh-lee) is an explicit comparison between two unlike things, typically using the words “like” or “as.” On the surface, the simile that appears at the end of “The Weary Blues” seems straightforward. The speaker says: “He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead” (line 35). This line is easy to identify as a simile since it uses explicit language to make the comparison. But there’s something slightly strange about this simile. First, the line is, in fact, a double simile—that is, it makes a double comparison, almost as if the speaker corrects himself after the initial simile. Second, both parts of the simile come from common idiomatic expressions. In everyday English, “to sleep like a rock” simply means to sleep deeply. Likewise, “to sleep like the dead” means to sleep so deeply that the sleeper can’t be disturbed. Despite having very similar meanings, the way the speaker corrects himself is significant. Indeed, it seems like he may half believe that the musician’s deathlike slumber is more literal than figurative.