Blue Terrance by Terrance Hayes and The Essay

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Blue Terrance" by Terrance Hayes and "The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes both use the blues as a metaphor for human existence. The 'blues' are a historically African-American form of musical expression that pairs sorrow with expressive music, and is considered one of the greatest contributions of African-Americans to musical culture. However, the authors' uses of the blues as a metaphor are different. Hayes uses the blues to express his own, personal pain of romantic rejection and his difficulties in life, although he clearly sees his attraction to the blues as a natural extension of his African-American identity. Hughes, in contrast, takes a more expansive view of the blues, and sees all African-Americans as united in the blues. When he sees a solitary blues singer, he identifies with the man, and eventually by the end of his poem, his identity and the identity of the singer are united by the commonness of African-American sorrow in the blues.

The personal nature of Hayes' view of the blues is manifest as he writes, recollecting his childhood: "That's why/the blues will never go out of fashion:/their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of/consequence; that's why when they call, Boy, you're in/trouble." The poem does not begin with a reference to music, but to the struggles Hayes endured as young, black child growing up, when not even 'buck-tooth' girls liked him, possibly because of his color, but not necessarily. The poem lists a catalogue of small offenses done to him by the world: "If you subtract the minor losses, / you can return to your childhood too:/the blackboard chalked with crosses, / the math teacher's toe ring" and also details the poignancy of his sense of lost opportunities: "I remember what the world was like before/I heard the tide humping the shore smooth, / and the lyrics asking: How long has your door/been closed?" The 'closed door' or sense of loss as the sea is worn smooth is not specifically characterized as part of the African-American experience. Hayes claims the blues as his birthright as an African-American, but does not say that all of his sorrow is solely due to race.

Blues are only obliquely used as a metaphor by Hayes, but are strikingly rendered in their musical quality by Hughes within the actual text of Hughes' poem "The Weary Blues." "He did a lazy sway .... / He did a lazy sway.... " writes Hughes, using repetition to render the effect of the music in prose. The poem, as well as being about the blues, "does contain some real blues: we hear it a few lines into the poem, when a line suddenly repeats itself, as the classic blues line does" (Knapp 2005). The poem becomes 'the blues' in its sound as well as portrays a blues player.

Hughes does not talk about the music's relationship to his own life, specifically. He is merely a rather generic observer, in contrast to Hayes. Rather Hughes views a black man in the persona of a blues player, as an African-American like himself, sharing a common sorrow. The man is playing the sound that draws Hughes to its tune, even though the poet and the singer have two different vocabularies, as manifested in the contrast between the sound of the singer and the actual writing of the poem. The bluesman is: "Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, / Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon."

In his poem, Hayes does not consciously come to the blues, rather the blues comes to him, but Hughes seeks out the player, clearly because it evokes a kind of primal memory or emotional response that resonates with his experiences, although he does not specifically say which ones. Hughes simply says, "Coming from a black man's soul. / O Blues!" while listening to the music as if he understands. The presumed commonality of experience between Hughes and the blues player on Lennox Avenue is blackness, although Hughes does not identify himself as such in the poem. However, his intense emotional response to the blues, his appreciation of its beauty and his apparent sympathetic understanding of the blues player all clue the reader to the fact that Hughes is chronicling the Black experience. In Hayes, this relationship is less direct, and Hayes seems to suggest that he sings the…[continue]

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