Maya Angelou’s “Alone” was originally published in 1975 in her second volume of verse, Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well. By the time of the book’s publication, Angelou had already established herself as a prolific writer of both prose and poetry. Her first two autobiographies had achieved tremendous success, and her first volume of poetry had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
“Alone” conveys many themes that appear in other Angelou poems: human suffering, isolation, love, and a need for solidarity in order to rise above the pain and problems that people face. The poem is written in free verse and resembles a song, as the speaker repeats a refrain that emphasizes a call for togetherness. The poem is both intimate and universal in its tone. Upon reflection, the speaker has come to the conclusion that no one can survive in this world alone and that people need to band together to solve problems and live peacefully. As the poem progresses, the speaker’s epiphany transforms into a wise and urgent message to the reader. Through the repetition of a key stanza, the speaker insists that the reader listen to her advice and heed her message about humanity’s need to work together to overcome tensions and live in harmony.
While Angelou’s poetry volumes have typically enjoyed commercial success, critics have often been divided over their literary quality. The Library Journal cites enthusiastically that “Alone,” as well as the other poems in the volume, are well-written ballads responding to Angelou’s African-American heritage, and that they sound like lyrics that are best appreciated when read aloud. Indeed, many critics have often noted the musical quality of Angelou's poetry. In contrast, critic Sandra Gilbert states that the volume is talentless and was only published to capitalize on Angelou’s already established fame. Nonetheless, writer Lyman B. Hagen counters Gilbert’s criticism by musing that the simplicity of the poetry in this volume does not take away from its power, describing the poems as light verse that successfully convey deep sentiments while embracing important themes such as racial conflicts.