Thomas Higginson, in Army Life in a Black Regiment, wrote of this song:
But of all the "spirituals" that which surprised me the most, I think,--perhaps because it was that in which external nature furnished the images most directly,--was this. With all my experience of their ideal ways of speech, I was startled when first I came on such a flower of poetry in that dark soil. . . . "I 'll lie in de grave and stretch out my arms." Never, it seems to me, since man first lived and suffered, was his infinite longing for peace uttered more plaintively than in that line.