Introductory to Second Edition

By Alfred Islay Walden 1847–1884
My book is largely growing;
   Its leaves are multiplied;
Its pages are much longer,
   And nearly twice as wide.

At first I thought the reader
   Had not the time to spare,
To hail my little volume
   As it floated in the air.

I thought perhaps while floating
   Away through empty space,
Perchance would there discover
   Some long forgotten race.

I knew not it would mingle
   Among the great and wise,
Or that it would be subject
   Unto the critic’s eyes.

I thought it was inferior,
   And of the minor class,
I knew not how the ladies
   Would read it as they pass.

But now I find it’s useful,
   And laden every page,
For truly it must mingle
   With those of every age.

Therefore I should have measured;
   Should not have thought it vain
To make its little mysteries
   Unto the reader plain.

But surely there’s no secret
   Where thought is not sublime,
That I have thus destroyed
   By keeping up my rhyme.

But if I should in future
   Find this to be the case,
I’d take my silver pencil
   And all these lines erase.

I’d rather use a license,
   Or grammar’s laws dispense,
Than for to let my metre
   Or rhythm govern sense.

The read will remember
   My chances are but slim,
Or else this little volume
   Would be in better trim.

Remember, too, in Dixie
   That I was born a slave.
And all my early genius
   Was locked within the grave.

Remember my condition—
   A mark within my eyes—
And all my inspirations
   Are showered from the skies.

I cannot read of authors,
   Nor those of noble fame,
For I’m just a learning
   The author, Milton’s, name.

I cannot borrow subjects,
   Nor rob them of their style,
My book amid their volumes,
   Like me, is but a child.

Therefore, I bless this volume,
   And send with it my heart,
That it may to the critic
   My better thoughts impart.

Go forth, then, little volume,
   Much good from thee may spring,
If thou continueth pleading
   The merits of thy King.

And others yet may follow,
   All changed within their scale,
But thou, upon thy mission,
   I am sure can never fail.

Source: African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century (University of Illinois Press, 1992)

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Poet Alfred Islay Walden 1847–1884

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects History & Politics, Poetry & Poets, Race & Ethnicity, Reading & Books


Alfred Islay Walden was born a slave in Randolph County, North Carolina, and gained freedom only after Emancipation. Sold twice as an infant, he was recognized at a young age for his facility with mental math calculations and general acuity. Determined to become a minister, Walden traveled to Washington, D.C., on foot during the winter of 1867 and supported himself by selling poems on the streets and giving lectures in . . .

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Poems by Alfred Islay Walden

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Poetry & Poets, Race & Ethnicity, Reading & Books

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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