The first three lines of “The Weary Blues” introduce the reader to the poem’s setting—and hint at its themes. The speaker is listening to a black blues singer play a “drowsy syncopated tune.” In other words, he’s playing a slow, jazzy song—rocking back and forth as he does so in time with the music.
The poem not only describes the blues singer and his song—it takes on the distinctive rhythm and mood of blues music. In a sense, the poem becomes a piece of blues music. The speaker relies on a range of different formal techniques and poetic devices to achieve this. Note, for instance, the way the poem uses alliteration and consonance in lines 1 and 2 to establish the poem’s rhythm:
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon…
The alliterative /d/ sounds in line 1 sound like the tinkling of piano keys, an improvisatory run before the song gets started. The /r/ and /ck/ sounds themselves rock back and forth, establishing a syncopated, swinging rhythm for the poem. And the three lines together work like the introduction to the song—building anticipation until, in line 3, the speaker arrives at a straightforward, satisfying statement: “I heard a Negro play.” (Note that, to build such anticipation, the speaker withholds the main verb of the sentence, “heard,” until line 3.)
The poem thus doesn’t follow a set form—like the sonnet or the villanelle. Instead, it uses its formal elements to help it imitate a blues song. It has no set meter or rhyme scheme—though many of its lines, including lines 1 and 2 form rhyming couplets. Indeed, the poem implicitly rejects European, white, formal techniques. The poem works from the example of the blues—a form of popular music developed by black Americans in the Deep South. It thus makes an implicit argument about the value of black artistic traditions: they are as rich, sophisticated, and accomplished as any European forms.