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Blue Terrance" by Terrance HayesEssay

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[. . .] Hughes' poem is not a personal lyric. As Hughes' poem unfolds, it gradually becomes unclear whether the old blues-player is a man Hughes is observing or Hughes himself. The man sings of his loneliness, despite the presumed presence of the poet, taking note of the man's actions: "In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone / I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan-- / "Ain't got nobody in this entire world, / Ain't got nobody but ma self. / I's gwine to quit ma frownin' / And put ma troubles on the shelf." There is a paradox suggested in this song -- all African-Americans share the blues, given that Hughes seems to understand what the man is feeling, without really interacting with him, yet the essence of the blues and the African-American experience is lonely.

The divide between Hughes and the blues-singer is further collapsed at the end of the poem when Hughes acts as though he can even hear the thoughts of the blues-player, long after he has left his presence. "The singer stopped playing and went to bed / While the Weary Blues / echoed through his head." Whether Hughes himself or the singer is unhappy, or whether they are the same person does not matter -- both are metaphors for the African-American experience that can only be expressed in the blues. Hughes sees himself and the singer as similarly afflicted by the same sorrow, and freely projects himself into the persona of the singer. Once again, it is hard to understand how Hughes knew how the man slept, unless he feels he 'is' the man in some sense, if not literally, then metaphorically. The final line of the poem: "He slept like a rock or a man that's dead," is nihilistic in tone, although the singer's command of music and melody does have a kind of joy to it, much like Hughes' appreciation of it.

It is true that "these lines from the blues tradition are very different than the language which the speaker uses through most of the poem...the speaker is not quite a part of the blues he listens to, even though he is powerfully drawn to it. He seems to be more educated, perhaps more middle class: more like the kind of person we tend to associate with poems" (Knapp 2005). The poet distances himself from the language of the blues singer by not rendering the entire poem in dialect, yet it is he who so vividly describes what the man is feeling as well as how he sounds, even how the man slept. Furthermore, "the whole focus of the poem is on the blues lines, with their non-standard language and their musical rhythms, derived from old folk traditions" (Knapp 2005). The contrast in diction indicates that all African-Americans, regardless of their education or origin share the blues, whether they are educated men like Hughes or the bluesman on the street.

Hayes' poem, in contrast, is far more personal in tone throughout, not simply with his autobiographical beginning, but his more direct explanation of what the blues mean to him. "Boy, you're in / trouble. Especially if you love as I love / falling to the earth. Especially if you're a little bit / high strung and a little bit gutted balloon." Hayes' personalized response to the blues suggests that there is not simply sorrow about the African-American condition in the blues as in Hughes' poem. Hayes is a very intense person who loves too much, and is affected by the cruelties of the world too much. Hayes takes a certain degree of pride in this, in the lushness with which he illustrates his 'high strung' nature falling like a balloon to the earth when disappointed. He even admits to romanticizing his nature: "Nothing's more romantic / than the way good love can take leave of you. / That's why I'm so doggone lonesome, Baby, / yes, I'm lonesome and I'm blue." For Hayes, although the blues may be African-American in origin, the singer who sings the blues is never universal in intention, but always sings a personal melody.

Works Cited

Knapp, James F. "Langston Hughes." W.W.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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