Langston Hughes's “The Weary Blues,” first published in 1925, describes a black piano player performing a slow, sad blues song. This performance takes place in a club in Harlem, a segregated neighborhood in New York City. The poem meditates on the way that the song channels the suffering and injustice of the black experience in America, transforming that suffering into something beautiful and cathartic. The poem thus reflects on the immense beauty of black art—and the immense pain that lies beneath it.
Droning a drowsy ...
... a Negro play.
Down on Lenox ...
... those Weary Blues.
With his ebony ...
... a musical fool.
Sweet Blues! ...
... old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody ...
... on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, ...
... sang some more—
“I got the ...
... I had died.”
And far into ...
... man that’s dead.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Hughes Reads "The Weary Blues" — The poet reads "The Weary Blues" with a blues band accompanying him. (Hughes begins reading the poem around the 1:40 mark).
More on Hughes's Life — A detailed biography of Langston Hughes from the Poetry Foundation.
The Harlem Renaissance — A detailed article on the history of the Harlem Renaissance from the Poetry Foundation.
"What Is the Blues?" — A brief history of the blues from PBS.
200 Years of Afro-American Poetry — An article by Hughes from the 1960s, in which he lays out his understanding of the history of African American poetry.
1Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
2Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
3 I heard a Negro play.
4Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
5By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
6 He did a lazy sway. . . .
7 He did a lazy sway. . . .
8To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
9With his ebony hands on each ivory key
10He made that poor piano moan with melody.
11 O Blues!
12Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
13He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
14 Sweet Blues!
15Coming from a black man’s soul.
16 O Blues!
17In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
18I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
19 “Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
20 Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
21 I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
22 And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
23Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
24He played a few chords then he sang some more—
25 “I got the Weary Blues
26 And I can’t be satisfied.
27 Got the Weary Blues
28 And can’t be satisfied—
29 I ain’t happy no mo’
30 And I wish that I had died.”
31And far into the night he crooned that tune.
32The stars went out and so did the moon.
33The singer stopped playing and went to bed
34While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
35He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.