Perilous times: Time to sing the blues

In thinking about the times in which we live when so many are experiencing deepest sorrow and sense of loss, I recall words from poet Robert Bly: “It is easier to go through suffering if you have a name for it.” We have all learned the reality that suffering is a part of life; indeed, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” As the old folks used to say, “Ain’t no harm to moan. . . sometime.” During these dark times, the blues, an African American musical form, seems ideally suited to express the anguish and inner turmoil confronting the whole world.

Although this unique African American musical and poetic expression rooted in the oral tradition is often somber in tone, evoking a “soulful melancholody”, there can be brighter more vibrant qualities beneath the surface, expressing a wide range of emotions. Jan Farrington in a review of the musical, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, comments:

“Though we think of “the blues” as an endless song of sadness, . . . remember that blues music can sound every note of human life, from despair to joy. There’s anger, mourning and protest — but life and happiness break through even in the hardest times.”

Lines from an original poem, “All Blues,” raise a thought-provoking question and bring closure to our discussion of this evocative musical form:

just what is the blues?

is it somethin you get
a show nuff dis ease
like de rheumatiz
or de rockin pneumonia
and de boogie-woogie flu
or is it like Lightnin said
somethin you just borned with
whatsonever it is
somethin gets a holt of you
dis mornin dis evenin soooo blue
just what is the blues?
maybe Lady Day summed it up
when she said,
“The blues is everything.”
the sea,
the sky,
the blues and I
know all colors;
sea and sky,
the blues and I
know all colors:
all shades all hues all blues

Musically speaking, the blues emerged as amazing by-products of slavery, blending vestiges of spirituals with traditional West African musical and narrative forms to produce a new expression with a range of emotions. These songs called the blues, follow a 12-bar musical pattern, one long line of four bars, with repeated words and music in the next line, then a third line of four bars to rhyme lyrically with the first two lines that are always the same.

One of the distinctly American poetic forms that uses blues stanzas is the “Blues Sonnet” consisting of four blues stanzas followed by a heroic couplet to complete the variation of the classic 14-line sonnet, so widely recognized and celebrated. Here is an original psalm inspired by the current circumstances that have gripped the world to remind us how to view these adverse conditions:

Greater than Corona

A blues sonnet for these perilous times

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.
Isaiah 61:3

Without warning, the deadly virus came on the scene.
Without warning, the deadly virus came on the scene:
A new global pandemic sparked by COVID-19.

This tool of the enemy comes to grip us in fear.
This tool of the enemy comes to grip us in fear,
But we cry out to the Lord, who is always near.

We know nothing low down on earth, nothing high above.
We know nothing low down on earth, nothing high above.
Not even death can separate us from God’s love.

So, get out our face, Coronavirus–don’t you see?
So, get out our face, Coronavirus–don’t you see?
In the name of Jesus Christ, we have the victory!

God of grace, God of the living and not the dead,
Gives joy for sorrow, beauty for ashes instead.

Recently I came across a magnificent musical illustration of what I am trying to say about Abba, Father’s sense of identification with those who sing the blues. Listen to Kevin Levar along with One Voice singing “Jesus Blues.”

2 Responses to “Perilous times: Time to sing the blues”


    LOVED your poem, Lonnell! I tried to read it to A J just like YOU would! Yes, Laud, I did do dat! LOVE YOU, brother. xoxoxox

    • Dr. J Says:

      Thanks for the comments. When things settle down, I would love to do special reading of the poem and other works just for you and AJ. I appreciate the support.

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