His friends went off and left Him dead
In Joseph’s subterranean bed,
Embalmed with myrrh and sweet aloes,
And wrapped in snow-white burial clothes.
Then shrewd men came and set a seal
Upon His grave, lest thieves should steal
His lifeless form away, and claim
For Him and undeserving fame.
“There is no use,” the soldiers said,
“Of standing sentries by the dead.”
Wherefore, they drew their cloaks around
Themselves, and fell upon the ground,
And slept like dead men, all night through,
In the pale moonlight and chilling dew.
A muffed whiff of sudden breath
Ruffled the passive air of death.
He woke, and raised Himself in bed;
Recalled how He was crucified;
Touched both hands’ fingers to His head,
And lightly felt His fresh-healed side.
Then with a deep, triumphant sigh,
He coolly put His grave-clothes by—
Folded the sweet, white winding sheet,
The toweling, the linen bands,
The napkin, all with careful hands—
And left the borrowed chamber neat.
His steps were like the breaking day:
So soft across the watch He stole,
He did not wake a single soul,
Nor spill one dewdrop by the way.
Now Calvary was loveliness:
Lilies that flowered thereupon
Pulled off the white moon’s pallid dress,
And put the morning’s vesture on.
“Why seek the living among the dead?
He is not here,” the angel said.
The early winds took up the words,
And bore them to the lilting birds,
The leafing trees, and everything
That breathed the living breath of spring.
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.