1. In the poem “The Weary Blues,” the musician literally collapses when he’s finished singing: “He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.” What do the lyrics or the sound of the blues song within this poem suggest about the relationship between blues and death? Does the music act as a catalyst, a cure, or both?
2. “Dream Variations” and “Dreams” both describe ideal realities for the speaker. How do these worlds compare to each other? Do the day and night in “Dream Variations” reflect the difference between daydreams and night dreams? When Hughes writes “night comes on gently,/Dark like me“ is he indicating that dreams have some special connection to race?
3. In “I, too, sing America” and “Let America be America Again,” Hughes presents two visions of the country. While there seems to be a core of patriotism within his body of work, Hughes’s views of America are complicated. What role do the parenthetical refrains play in “Let America be America Again”? What role does the repetition play?
4. In the poem “Life is Fine,” as in others, Hughes creates a form that, while based on the blues, is unique to the piece. What place do the italicized lines have in the piece? What do they change about how the poem looks and sounds? How do they affect the rhythm? Are these effects related to the content in these lines?
5. “Po' Boy Blues” is an example of a poem in which Hughes most closely follows the blues form: two repeated lines and a final variation on that line. Where does it depart from that structure? Are there phrases or content in this poem that seem unique to poetry, or could it easily be set to music? What is the difference, in your experience, between a song and a poem?
6. In the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” four rivers are named: the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mississippi. What special significance do these four rivers have in terms of creating the world of the poem? What historical or cultural worlds do they help us imagine? How is the history of humanity related to the history of an individual man in this poem?
7. The poems “Madam and Her Madam” and “Madam and the Phone Bill” each end with refusals, first of love and then of money. How do these conflicts and refusals work to create a larger picture of race relations in the worlds of these poems? How do the poems work together to build the character of “Madam”?