Folk Music Rhythms in Po’ Boy Blues

This poem is interesting for me because of two things. First, it uses Black slang language, even the title is in Slang. Po’ is the slang language of poor; after the word Boy there should be apostrophe‘s, but it does not exist. Second, even though the words are mostly informal, the poem sounds very poetic and very much rhyming. The combination of the two makes me curious to know further whether such type of rhyming slang stanzas is identical with some product of culture. Langston Hughes, the writer of Po’ Boy Blues, is known for the use of jazz and Black folk rhythms in his poetry (Encarta 2005). In this poem, he uses the Black folk rhythms or the rhythms that are usually used in folk music. According to Nettl (2005), “Folk music is the music with which the people of a nation or an ethnic group most specifically identify themselves.” This kind of music is mostly and commonly played by lower classes and of rural populations. This music is closely associated with everyday activities such as ritual, work, and child rearing. There are so many varieties of folk music; one of them is Black folk music (Nettl 2005). Knowing the definition, we can conclude that Black folk music is the kind of folk music usually played in the Black community. Furthermore, Nettl (2005) added information about the characteristics of folk music: “Although the folk musics of European cultures are extremely diverse, they share some general characteristics. The music is relatively simple, usually consisting of songs with a strophic form—that is, the music repeats in short stanzas with different words. The most common stanza type has four lines, sometimes with different words (abcd), but more frequently with some repetition (aaba, abba, and so on). The use of antiphony, or alternation between a leader and a chorus, each singing one line or stanza, is common throughout Europe. Much instrumental folk music presents successions of lines in which each line is repeated or varied once (aabbccdd or aa’bb’, and so on).” There are three evidences that this poem adopts the Black folk music rhythms. First, from the type of language, it is obvious that this poem represents the language of the Blacks, those who usually have lower education in societies. This is the same with folk music which is used by the people of a nation or ethnic group, mostly played by the lower classes, to identify themselves. Second, viewed from the theme of the poem, this poem takes the theme about teenager’s common problem: heart-broken. The combination of the slang language and the sad expression of the boy clearly identify one issue existing in the Black community: the Black teenager’s love life. This is the same with folk music that also takes common issues of a community as its theme. Third, viewed from the form, even though this poem is very ungrammatical, it still has metric structure of the poetry, which is also commonly used in folk music. Moreover, it uses figurative languages within all the lines. Much instrumental folk music presents successions of lines in which each line is repeated or varied once, so does this poem. The uniqueness of this poem exists first in the slang language it uses; every line in this poem is almost ungrammatical. The second uniqueness is the form of the rhyming lines which in some part a bit unusual. It is actually closely related to the slang language it uses since slang expression not only disobeys the grammatical rules but also often embody attitudes and values of group members (Encarta 2005). Furthermore, certain feeling contained in the poem is also expressed in the way the “I” cuts the line and choose words as he wishes. Actually, in the title, the feeling of the “I” has been expressed implicitly since the word “Blues” means a slow sad style of music that came from the southern US (Longman Dictionary: 152). Therefore, by looking at the title, we can predict that the boy or the “I” is feeling sad because, originally, blue means feelings of sadness although we do not know yet the reason of the sadness (Longman Dictionary: 152). Now, I would like to go further into the details of each stanza. In the stanza one, we can find slang language in the line one, three, and five; it is the word de which is the slang form of the word “the”. Besides, the “I” in this poem also mistakenly uses tenses. In the line five, actually the “I” would like to say “Since I came up North de” because the preceding lines have already used past tense; however, the “I” mistakenly writes “come” instead of “came.” This stanza uses iambic feet and consists of six lines. However, the place where the “I” cuts the line is strange; it is different with how the normal poem cuts the line. For clearer explanation, we should compare an example of the poem which uses the normal stanza and normal ending of lines with the poem Po’ Boy Blues. The poem below is an example of the poem that uses iambic feet in each line and six lines in each stanza: As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed by Jack Prelutsky As soon as Fred gets out of bed, his underwear goes on his head. His mother laughs, “Don’t put it there, a head’s no place for underwear!” But near his ears, above his brains, is where Fred’s underwear remains. ( This poem uses iambic pentameter and every lines exactly stopped after the stressed syllable or when the fourth feet is completed. Different with As Soon as Fred Gets Out, the Po’ Boy Blues uses iambic trimeter. Just like what I sadi before, the strange thing in the first stanza is the way the “I” cuts every lines; he cuts them in the middle of the third iambic foot, exactly after the unstressed syllable de, before the feet is completed. Look at the stanza below: When I was home de Sunshine seemed like gold When I was home de Sunshine seemed like gold Since I come up North de Whole damn world’s turned cold (Hughes 2004) Since the line one, three, and five is run-on lines, it seems that those six lines were originally three lines because if we continue the cut iambic de in the line one, three, and five to the next line, there will only be three lines of iambic heptameter. If we do so, then the sentences will be like this: When I was home de Sunshine seemed like gold When I was home de Sunshine seemed like gold Since I come up North de Whole damn world’s turned cold. The inappropriateness of the way the “I” cuts the lines expresses somehow something wrong with his feeling if we relate it to the title’s interpretation in the beginning of this essay. The curse word “damn” emphasizes his terrible feeling and indicates his hatred towards something. In the second stanza, we can see that the line eight and ten are ungrammatical. In the line eight, the “I” uses negative words twice, once with “Never” and once with “no”. Actually, before “Never”, there should be the word “who” and after it should be “has” to make it formal and grammatical. In brief, the grammatical form of the line eight and ten should be “Who has never done wrong”. If we analyze why the “I” writes this ungrammatical form in relation to the theme, the use of double negative word is not without reason; the “I” wants to emphasize that he is indeed a good boy who never done any single mistakes. The use of “Never” and “no” is purposively to strengthen the meaning. How much the “I” wants to emphasize his meaning is also looked in the repetition of the line. The only line the “I” repeats in this stanza is the line seven while the line eleven and twelve are only written once. In the line twelve, we can find three informal words: “’An”, “de”, and “’an”. The abbreviation ‘an is the informal abbreviation of the word “and” while the word de is informal form of the word “the.” The third stanza is where we can find the reason of the sadness of the “I” and to whom his hatred is. In this stanza, again, the “I” repeats the first line of the stanza, the line thirteen. The grieve feeling of the “I” is expressed in every lines by the repetition of the line thirteen and fourteen and the ungrammatical forms of line seventeen and eighteen. As we can see, in the line seventeen, the “I” uses the word ma instead of my; in the line eighteen, the “I” uses the abbreviation ‘An instead of “and” and ma instead of my. In the last stanza, we can find six times repetitions of the word “weary”. It indicates strong emphasis on this word. The word weary refers to two meanings: “very tiring” and “very tired or bored, especially because you have been doing something for a long time “(Longman Dictionary: 1868). The reason why the “I” emphasizes the word “weary” can be related to the reason why he feels sad; he feels sad because of the broken-hearted feeling. In the line twenty, the “I” says “Weary early in the morn”. The combination of “weary”, “early”, and “morn” shows that the “I” has been very tired after falling in love with the girl who betrayed him. His tiredness makes him “weary” even when it is still in the morning. The word “morning” refers to his age since he is still a boy, a young man. The “I” also emphasize on the world “early” by repeating it three times to strengthen the fact that his disappointment with the girl has makes him traumatic even when he is still young. In the line twenty three, the “I” mistakenly says “I’s” which is supposed to be “I’m” may be because he hastily repeats the other word “weary”. This poem ends with a very hopeless sentence “I wish I’d never been born”. Fortunately, the “I” says the last word grammatically correct; it may be because if he said mistakenly, it would change what he means and he does not want it happen. In conclusion, this poem is very unique. It combines the beauty of rhyming lines with the slang language to express the sad feeling of a Black boy who is broken-hearted. It also expresses the Black culture through the folk rhymes. This poem is very interesting. References: As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed by Jack Prelutsky. (Online), (, accessed on February 11, 2009). Hughes, Langston. 2004. Langston Hughes Poem. Classical Poetry Series. (Online), (www.poemhunter. com, accessed on January 6, 2009) “Langston Hughes.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005. Nettl, Bruno. “Folk Music.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005. Pearson Education Limited. 2005. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. England: British Library. “Slang.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005.


written by: nur alfa rahmah


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