One of the books that I have been looking forward to for as long as I can remember was James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain. When I first encountered it on must-read lists, I knew immediately that I wanted to read the book. To be honest, one of the first things that came to my mind during this first encounter was a Christmas song of the same title. A couple of years, maybe four or five, since my first encounter with the book, I finally got to read Baldwin’s most popular and most influential work. I did not expect that it was rife with religious references. Nevertheless, it was an insightful experience and I have rounded up some of the book quotes that caught my attention. Here are some memorable lines from Baldwin’s timeless debut work.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“Yes, their parts were all cut off, they were dishonored, their very names were nothing more than dust blown disdainfully across the field of time – to fall where, to blossom where, bringing forth what fruit hereafter, where? – their very names were not their own. Behind them was the darkness, nothing but the darkness, and all around them destruction, and before them nothing but the fire – a bastard people, far from God, singing and crying in the wilderness!”

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

“But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and trecherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see that one could not have seen from any other place.”

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

Yes, he was in that valley where his mother told him he would find himself, where there was no human help, no hand outstretched, to protect or save. Here nothing prevailed save the mercy of God – here the battle was fought between God and the Devil, between death and everlasting life. And he had tarried too long, he had turned aside in sin too long, and God would not hear him. The appointed timme had passed and God had turned His face away.

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

“His mind was like the sea itself: troubled and too deep for the bravest man’s descent, throwing up now and again for the naked eye to wonder at, treasure and debris long forgotten on the bottom – bones and jewels, fantastic shells, jelly that had once been flesh, pearls that had once been eyes. And he was at the mercy of this sea, hanging there with darkness all around him.”

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

Nothing tamed or broke her, nothing touched her, neither kindness, nor scorn, nor hatred, nor love. She had never thought of prayer. It was unimaginable that she would ever bend her knees and come crawling along a dusty floor to anybody’s altar, weeping for forgiveness. Perhaps her sin was so extreme that it could not be forgiven; perhaps her pride was so great that she did not need forgiveness. She had fallen from that high estate which God had intended for men and women, and she made her fall glorious because it was so complete.

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

He had sinned, in spite of the saints, his mother and his father, the warnings he had heard from his earliest beginnings, he had sinned with his hands a sin that was hard to forgive. In the school lavatory alone, thinking of the boys, older, bigger, braver, who made bets with each other as to whose urine could arch higher, he had watched in himself a transformation of which he would never dare to speak.

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

“She knew through what fires the soul must crawl, and with what weeping one passed over. Men spoke of how the heart broke up, but never spoke of how the soul hung speechless in the pause, the void, the terror between the living and the dead; how, all garments rent and cast aside, the naked soul passed over the very mouth of Hell. Once there, there was no turning back; once there, the soul remembered, though the heart sometimes forgot. For the world called to the heart, which stammered to reply; life, and love, and revelry, and most falsely, hope, called the forgetful, the human heart. Only the soul, obsessed with the journey it had made, and had still to make, pursued its mysterious and dreadful end; and carried heavy with weeping and bitterness the heart along.”

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

She had only to endure and trust in God. She knew that the big house, the house of pride where the white folks lived, would come down; it was written in the Word of God. They, who walked so proudly now, had not fashioned for themselves or their children so sure a foundation as was hers. They walked on the edge of a steep place and their eyes were sightless – God would cause them to rush down, as the herd of swine had once rushed down, into the sea. For all that they were so beautiful, and took their ease, she knew them, and she pitied them, who would have no covering in the great day of His wrath.

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

She did not know why he so adored things that were so long dead; what sustenance they gave him, what secrets he hoped to wrest from them. But she understood, at least, that they did give him a kind of bitter nourishment, and that the secrets they held for him were a matter of his life and death. It frightened her because she felt that he was reaching for the moon and that he would, therefore, be dashed down against the rocks; but she did not say any of this.

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

But he was to find, as the prophets had found, that the whole earth became a prison for him who fled before the Lord. There was peace nowhere, and healing nowhere, and forgetfulness nowhere. In every church he entered, his sin had gone before him. It was in the strange, the welcoming faces, it cried up to him from the altar, it sat, as he mounted the pulpit steps, waiting for him in his seat. It stared upward from his Bible: there was no word in all that holy book which did not make him tremble.

~ James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain