3.

Within the blues there is a conscious use of the poetic devices that have been for centuries part of the English poetic tradition. Although the idea of a blues verse may be relatively simple the language which expresses it has often a marked sophistication. The directness and immediacy of the experience is heightened with an imagery and a symbolism that is itself drawn from the reality of the life. It is a poetic idiom that finds its images in the cabins and the tenements, in the fields, the empty roads, and the crowded streets of American Negro life.

The simile, the direct comparison, is used often in blues verses. One of the earliest lines, used in blues in every part of the South, was the well known,

"My woman has a heart like a stone cast in
the sea . . .
"

A line still used in Mississippi and Tennessee is the vivid,

"Put your arms around me like the circle
'round the sun . .
"

The singer who first compared the "circle 'round the sun" with the warmth and the intensity of an embrace found his comparison in the sun over his head as he stood in the summer fields, just as Blind Lemon Jefferson, in describing a woman, found his comparison in the movements of a squirrels in the brush along the stream beds in Texas where he had been raised,

"She's a fair made woman, cunning as a
squirrel . .
"

The metaphor, the indirect comparison, is less often used, but it still is found in many blues. Big Joe Williams sings,

Before I be your dog, before I be your dog,

-27-

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The Poetry of the Blues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Introduction 5
  • 1 7
  • 2 11
  • 3 27
  • 4 35
  • 5 43
  • 6 67
  • 7 80
  • 8 98
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