One of the twentieth century’s paradigmatic stagings of the volatile comity between poetry and music, Langston Hughes’s 1926 “The Weary Blues” opens like this:

There’s a great deal to be said about the glorious effects of prosody here — about, for instance, the way the utter iambic regularity of those punctuating three-beat lines (I heard a Negro play, He did a lazy sway) have the effect of investing the loose-jointed pentameterish lines that surround them with an undulating, off-beat rhythm: in a word, with syncopation. Yet if Hughes poaches a bit in this metrical way from the singer’s repertoire, he also works to...

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