6.

In a ragged work song verse that was heard by an collector of Negro song in the fields outside of Auburn, Alabama, there is already a suggestion of another of the dominant themes in the poetry of the blues.

When a woman takes the blues
She tucks her head and cries.
But when a man catches the blues,
He catches a freight and rides
.

The pain of separation and loneliness is as much a part of the blues as the pain of promiscuity and infidelity. As the early blues singers moved from town to town, stopping for a few weeks to work at a laboring job or to sing in a local dance hall, they left their women behind them; sometime s thinking about them as they went down the road, but usually forgetting them when they'd gotten to a new town and found someone new to take care of their worries. The women were left with ". . . an awful achin' head, lying in my empty bed, "a few memories and empty nights until they could find 'another man. The blues singers drifted from work gang to work gang, the men working beside them as lonely as they were. In the poverty and discrimination of the South were strong forces moving them on, forcing them from one poorly paid job to another, forcing them to leave towns where they'd said the wrong thing or gotten into trouble with a boss or a store keeper. Along the dirt roads and the railroad tracks men moved from the levee camps to the road gangs, from the mills of towns like Birmingham to the docks of ports like Mobile or Savannah. They slept in sheds, besides the roads, in ramshackle rooms above noisy country saloons, in "hobo jungles" beside the railroad; sometimes singing in the streets to earn a little money. But as Blind Lemon Jefferson commented,

I stood on the corner and almost bust my
head,
I stood on the corner and almost bust my
head.

-67-

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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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