Go Down, Death (A Funeral Sermon)
Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband–weep no more;
Grief-stricken son–weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter –weep no more;
She only just gone home.
Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell on Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God’s big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.
And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death!–Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.
And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn’t make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God’s command.
And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She’s borne the burden and heat of the day,
She’s labored long in my vineyard,
And she’s tired–
Go down, Death, and bring her to me.
And Death didn’t say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven’s pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning’s flash behind;
Straight down he came.
While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn’t see;
She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she smiled and closed her eyes.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn’t feel no chill.
And death began to ride again–
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.
Weep not–weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
About James Weldon Johnson
Born in Florida in 1871, James Weldon Johnson was a national organizer for the NAACP and an author of poetry and nonfiction. Best known for the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” he also wrote poetry and novels, often exploring racial identity and the African American folk tradition. In 1927, he published a book of poems to preserve the oral tradition of old-time black preachers, using black dialect.
In the poem “Go Down, Death” (subtitled “A Funeral Sermon”), God commands Death “to find Sister Caroline.” A preacher, consoling Sister Caroline’s family, assures them that she is not dead, but rather “resting in the bosom of Jesus.” Then a conversation between God and Death takes place, and Death, on a white horse, rides out of the “shadowy place” and through the Deep South to claim Sister Caroline.
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