poem index

book

The Weary Blues

Year

1926

Type

Poetry Book

 

Langston Hughes was born in Missouri and raised in Kansas and Illinois. Before publishing his first book, The Weary Blues, he lived in Mexico, New York, and traveled through Africa and Europe by working a variety of odd jobs. He died in his beloved Harlem in 1967, a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance and author of numerous plays, poems, and novels.

Hughes was just twenty-four years old when The Weary Blues was published in 1926. The poems progress at a self-assured and lyrical pace—partly because Hughes expected them to be performed with musical accompaniment in the famous Harlem clubs of that era. After its publication, the book won several awards, and the prize money allowed Hughes to complete his college education in Lincoln, Pennsylvania.

In The Weary Blues, Hughes began to address the preoccupations that carried through his later work. He announced his poetic philosophy of speaking not only for himself, but also the whole African American population. The book is split into seven thematic sections: The Weary Blues, Dream Variations, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, A Black Pierrot, Water Front Streets, Shadows in the Sun, and Our Land.

Hughes experimented with forms and the gray area between narrative and lyric in this volume. Three of the most widely anthologized poems from this first book include "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "Dream Variation," "Mother to Son," and the title poem, in which Hughes inhabits various voices, adding to the collection's cast of characters. In "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," dedicated to W. E. B. DuBois, Hughes addresses the depth and strength of the black soul; "Mother to Son," on the other hand, offers a mother’s descriptive words to her son regarding the difficulty of life and her own endurance; while the title poem uses musical rhythms to describe the fatigue of an aging blues singer.

Hughes listed his influences as Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman. In the tradition of those great American poets who were interested in the daily rhythms of the public and of work, Hughes in turn has influenced generations of writers of all races. His poems still reverberate with a clarity of emotion and capture the commotion of life in tandem with the anticipation of rest, as when he writes in the poem "Dream Variation," "Dance! whirl! whirl! / Till the quick day is done."

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