Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Piano

The blues musician at the center of the poem plays the piano. The piano is a quintessential jazz instrument, and it was crucial to the development of genres like blues and ragtime. But more than its historical importance for the Black musical tradition, the piano has a powerful symbolic significance in “The Weary Blues.” This significance is twofold in the way it symbolizes both pain and beauty. Consider these lines from the first stanza, which express the piano’s dual symbolism:

     With his ebony hands on each ivory key
     He made that poor piano moan with melody.
     O Blues! . . . 
     Sweet Blues!
     Coming from a black man’s soul.

In these lines (lines 9–15), the speaker likens the musician’s playing to a kind of violence or torture. When his fingers strike the ivory keys, they make “that poor piano moan.” This example of personification associates the music’s sorrowful tone with the piano itself, as if it’s painful to produce the melancholy melody the musician’s playing on it. But despite the evident pain that makes “that old piano moan” (line 18), the speaker also emphasizes the beauty made possible by the piano. Indeed, the blues aren’t just melancholy. Because of the piano, they’re also “sweet.”

The Moon and the Stars

Near the end of the poem, the speaker invokes the moon and the stars as cosmic symbols of hope and guidance. The speaker spends most of the poem describing the sound of the music and the movements of the musician. He also quotes select lyrics from one of the songs the musician played. The speaker’s focus then widens out as he imagines what the rest of the night might have been like for the musician:

     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. . . .
     He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead. 

In these lines (lines 31–35), the speaker imagines that the musician played late into the night. So late, in fact, that not just the lights of the city had gone out by the time he was done, but the moon and stars had also been extinguished. The speaker’s words here are more than just a romantic overstatement. They are also symbolically significant. The moon and the stars are both traditional symbols of hope and guidance in trying times. Just as moonlight can illuminate a path in the darkness, the stars can help travelers navigate at night. For the musician, however, these sources of hope and guidance are snuffed out, leaving him lost in a profound existential darkness. Or so the speaker imagines.