Previous historical studies of The Weary Blues have focused on the racial symbolism of Langston Hughes’s technique, which (as the consensus goes) authenticates the voice of the persona through its deliberate simplicity. This orthodox view is wrongheaded from the outset. The essay uses a new system of rhetorically driven scansion to identify elaborate rhetorical symmetries and polyrhythms that shape the cognition of Hughes’s persona and the recognition of his readers in ways that prose language cannot. Hughes employs rhetoric and iconography as alternative modes of historical narration. This recuperation of his persona intervenes in an ongoing dispute in the field of historical poetics about the value of formalism and cognitivism. The essay aims to show that the concept of thinking in verse is valuable where it has been least applied: in reclaiming the value of traditionally marginalized literatures such as those of the African American vernacular tradition.

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