Red, White and Blues

The blues is an American tradition rooted in musical performances and oral improvisation. The traditional lyrical stanza for the blues contains the rhyming scheme AAa. The first two lines either repeat exactly or almost exactly, while the last line rhymes with the first two. All three lines are written in iambic pentameter. Blues form can be traced as far back as the late nineteenth century, when the post civil war Jim Crow laws caused years of oppression and suffering for African Americans. “From its earliest days, the blues has always done many and sometimes contradictory things at the same time, both as an outlet for rage and a release from it” (Hajdu). It has served as a way for the oppressed to express their struggles in a peaceful way. Although originally the repetition in blues form was used as a way to buy the singer time to compose the third line during a performance improvisation, it evolved to become a way to “suggest conviction, a sincerity and concern for clarity, or a willingness to repeatedly confront and accurately state a painful circumstance” (Patterson 189). Hughes and Wright’s piece titled Red Clay Blues uses the form’s repetitive lines to reinforce their desire for systematic change. In the 1930s when the poem was composed, the term red was synonymous for revolution. The repeating line “miss that red clay” expresses hope for a change from their home state (Hughes and Wright 132). The closing lines “I want to see the landlords runnin’ cause I / Wonder where they gonna go! / I got them red clay blues” portray the frustration felt from the years of oppression and the harsh realization that justice is an entire revolution away (Hughes and Wright 133). The blues are the American way to express the struggles of the oppressed into an art form, and are just as prevalent today as the violence we continue to see.

Hass, Robert. A Little Book on Form: an Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry. Ecco, 2018.

Hajdu, David. “A Song That Changed Music Forever .” The New York Times, 8 Aug. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/opinion/sunday/crazy-blues-mamie-smith.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage.

Raymond R. Patterson. “The Blues.” ​An Exaltation of Forms​: ​Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art​. Edited by Anne Finch and Kathrine Varnes. U of Michigan P, 2002, pp. 188–197.

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