The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,I heard a Negro play.Down on Lenox Avenue the other nightBy the pale dull pallor of an old gas lightHe did a lazy sway. . . .He did a lazy sway. . . .To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.With his ebony hands on each ivory keyHe made that poor piano moan with melody.O Blues!Swaying to and fro on his rickety stoolHe played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.Sweet Blues!Coming from a black man’s soul.O Blues!In a deep song voice with a melancholy toneI heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,Ain’t got nobody but ma self.I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’And put ma troubles on the shelf.”Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.He played a few chords then he sang some more—“I got the Weary BluesAnd I can’t be satisfied.Got the Weary BluesAnd can’t be satisfied—I ain’t happy no mo’And I wish that I had died.”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 bedWhile the Weary Blues echoed through his head.He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
In Langston Hughes poem, “The Weary Blues,” the word that stands out is “moan.” Old Webster defines moan as “a long, low sound made by a person expressing physical or mental suffering or sexual pleasure.” The reader can be sure the word is not referencing sexual pleasure by the following adjectives used, “sad raggy” and “melancholy.” If the reader is still unsure as to whether the pianist is sexually aroused or emotionally distressed, lines 25-30 clarify, “I got the Weary Blues / And I can’t be satisfied / Got the Weary Blues / And can’t be satisfied / I ain’t happy no mo’ / And I wish that I had died.”
Hughes uses the word moan to personify the piano. It is not the fact that he is personifying the piano that calls for attention but the word choice he uses to do it. When one thinks of a piano, moaning does not particularly come to mind. Jingle and tinkle perhaps, but not moaning. The reader can infer a great deal from the word “moan.”
What is really notable is that the moaning occurs when the ebony hands make contact with the ivory keys of the piano: “With his ebony hands on each ivory key / He made that poor piano moan with melody” (8-9). The ebony hands represent African American society while the ivory keys represent White American society and perhaps the piano represents society as a whole. An instrument that is capable of playing such beautiful melodies, in Hughes’ poem, does not. When the ebony hands (African American society) and the ivory keys (White American society) come into contact discord results.
Hughes might not have redefined the meaning of the word “moan” but he did use it in a unique context. By assigning its negative meaning to an instrument generally known for its beautiful sound, he is able to highlight the conflict between African Americans and White Americans that create the American society as a whole.