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Analysis of Poem "Alone" by Maya Angelou

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou and a Summary of "Alone"

Maya Angelou's "Alone" is a poem that deals with togetherness by placing emphasis on being alone; quite an irony. It is a lyrical "thinking out loud", a reflection on what it is to be a human and 'out here' in the big wide world.

On the one hand, it is a personal epiphany—an individual, the speaker, has decided that, for the good of her soul, she cannot be alone. To make it, she'll need to work with others. And on the other, it is a calling to society to come together as one.

Maya Angelou, originally a dancer, eventually turned her hand to poetry and writing and gained great success as a popular, strong voice for the oppressed and vulnerable people of the world. She became a well-known civil rights pioneer.

Her work continues to inspire those who want to live in a world where equality, justice, and transparency apply to all, regardless of skin, creed or sexual orientation.

This poem was published in 1975 in her book Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well.


Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis

"Alone" is a free verse poem—there is no set rhyme scheme or meter. It sits on the page somewhat like a song lyric and has been set to music, its repetitive yet loose structure being helpful in this respect.

The poem also has its roots in the bible and relates to the idea that material possessions won't help in the long run, and that the 'rat-race' is leading humankind away from spirituality.

Overall it is a serious poem, solemn, echoing a voice in the wilderness. The long vowels dominate: soul, home, loaf, stone, alone, nobody, storm, blow, moan, closely.

Stanza 1

The reader is taken into the mind of the speaker in the very first line and it soon becomes apparent that, after some reflection, the speaker has come to quite a profound conclusion. Nobody can make it in the world alone.

Note the biblical allusions: from John 4:14 in the new testament - Christ meets a woman at a well and says to her - 'Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'

And again, from Matthew 4:3: And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

So the speaker is suggesting that this home will be a spiritual place, and that she will be nourished once she finds this home. It is the one thing she is certain about - if she is to make it and be spiritually wholesome (again) she will need the company of others.

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The use of the term out here is a little ambiguous. Is this, generally speaking, the big wide world? A specific remote place geographically? Perhaps she is feeling remote from other people?

Stanza 2

This is a kind of refrain, a near repeat of the last three lines of the previous stanza. Why repeat? Well, this places much more emphasis on the idea that nobody is an island, that nobody will survive by being alone.

Stanza 3

Leaving the personal epiphany of the opening lines, the speaker introduces the idea that wealth alone cannot bring spiritual wellbeing and happiness. Having too much money only isolates people further.

The word banshee comes from Irish mythology and is usually a female spirit entity who warns other family members of impending doom and death but in this specific poem means a wild and restless, wailing and screaming type of person.

In short, you can have all the money in the world, but you may still lose your soul.

Stanza 4

Again, a repeated chorus.

Stanza 5

The reader is urged to listen closely because the speaker has something important to say about the state of society and the suffering of the human race. There is a kind of apocalyptic feel to the lines, as if something awful is about to happen, or is already happening.

The call for togetherness is heard again. Metaphorical storms are brewing, human souls have to work together for the common good of all.

Stanza 6

The repeated message, the same refrain underlining all that has gone on before.


Black Poets of the United States, Jean Wagner, Uni of Illinois, 1973

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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