For a couple of days in class, we have been playing with iambic pentameter and seeing which poems can fit into that form. We were split into groups and given different tasks that all had to do with iambic pentameter. My group and I had the role of trying to fit Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” into iambic pentameter. Our results were quite surprising. We found that there were some lines here and there that fit. For example, the last five lines (31-35) matched iambic pentameter very well:
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
For those of you who don’t know what iambic pentameter is, it’s when you have about five pairs of iambs in each line. An iamb is a two-syllable word starting with an unstressed syllable and ending with a stressed syllable (for example, alone). Now that you know what iambic pentameter is, we can go back and split the poem:
and FAR inTO the NIGHT he CROONED that TUNE.
the STAIRS went OUT and SO did the MOON.
the SINGer stopped PLAYing and WENT to BED
while the Weary BLUES ECHoed through his HEAD.
he SLEPT like a ROCK on a MAN that’s DEAD.
As you can see, not all the lines have perfect iambic pentameter, but it’s still more or less the same pattern. I was so surprised when I saw how Hughes, either unintentionally or intentionally, used iambic pentameter. However, at the same time, he still stuck to the jazzy rhythm that “The Weary Blues” belongs to and simply applied a bit of old school structure to his free poem.