She’s determined to live a life filled with love and never know the sorrow of experiencing that love end. The poem is quite simple in its syntax and use of diction. Readers should have no problem interpreting the speaker’s meaning or hearing the passion in her words. Her tone is confident throughout, making it more than clear that she’s certain about her wants and needs.
Explore I Want to Die Before You Love Me
‘I Want to Die While You Love Me’ by Georgia Douglas Johnson is a short and direct poem that speaks about a woman’s love for their partner.
The poem’s four stanzas address the speaker’s commitment to her lover and the fact that she’d rather die than know a moment without their love. She suggests that no one would ever want to live through a time when love has nothing more to give and nothing more to ask. She’s going to go to her grave with her lover’s kisses on her lips, warming her after she’s already passed away, she says. The poem ends with a declarative and confident statement. The speaker refuses to know a single day without the glory of their love.
You can read the full poem here.
I want to die while you love me,
And lights are in my hair.
In the first stanza of ‘I Want to Die While You Love Me,’ the speaker begins by using a refrain. The line, “I want to die while you love me,” which later came to be used as the title of the poem, is repeated at the beginning of all four stanzas. The phrase is fairly dramatic and immediately informs the reader that the speaker is beyond devoted to her lover. She cares about this person so much that she’d rather die before they stopped loving her. This kind of passion is carried throughout the poem.
She adds in the next lines, through the use of imagery and alliteration, that she wants to die while her lover is holding her and while she’s happy. She’d rather pass away in the midst of this joy than live one day knowing what life is like without it.
I want to die while you love me,
To warm me when I’m dead.
The second stanza starts in the same way as the first. In the following lines, she uses an example of hyperbole to suggest that her lover’s kisses are so warming that she can carry them to the grave and be warmed “when [she’s] dead.” This suggestion is a thoughtful and romantic one. It fits in well with the rest of the poem that also takes an over-the-top approach to love and life.
I want to die while you love me
And nothing more to give?
The third stanza contains a question after the traditional repetition of the refrain. She wants to know who would want to live until the point where “love has nothing more to ask / And nothing more to give?” This suggests that she’s not the only one who feels this way. Many people, perhaps everyone, would rather die while they still feel loved than know one moment when love has run out.
In this stanza, the poet is also personifying love. By having her speaker describe it as something that asks and gives, she’s imbuing it with human characteristics.
I want to die while you love me
Grow dim or cease to be!
In the final stanza, the speaker concludes the poem by saying that she wants to die while her lover still loves her and never sees “the glory of this perfect day / Grow dim or cease to be.” She ends with an exclamation, one that caps off the poem confidently and passionately. There is no doubt in her words that this is how she wants to live and die. The repetition of “never” in the second line is another feature that ensures readers know just how confident she is about her choice to die before love runs out.
Structure and Form
‘I Want to Die While You Love Me’ by Georgia Douglas Johnson is a four-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB with the “A” end-word, “me,” repeated at the end of all four first lines.
The poet also chose to use an alternating metrical pattern. The odd-numbered lines are written in iambic tetrameter, while the even-numbered lines are written in iambic trimeter. This means they alternate between having four sets of two beats or three sets of two beats, with the first syllable of each pair unstressed and the second syllable stressed. This pattern, in combination with the rhyme scheme, is known as ballad or hymn meter.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “laughter lies” in line three of the first stanza and “bear” and “bed” in line two of the second stanza.
- Repetition: when the writer repeats something, like a structure, idea, word, or an entire line, more than once. In this case, the poet used a refrain, repeating the entire first line in every stanza.
- Hyperbole: can be seen when the poet intentionally exaggerates something in order to get a point across or make a description more lyrical or more interesting. For example, “Your kisses turbulent, unspent / To warm me when I’m dead.” This line suggests that the speaker could be warmed by her lover’s kisses after she’s dead when this is an impossibility.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet makes use of particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “While laughter lies upon my lips / And lights are in my hair.”
The purpose of this poem is to explore a speaker’s love for their partner. It’s a love that’s so strong, she’d rather die with it than know a moment without it. The poem is meant to stress the importance of this emotion in her life and make sure readers know life isn’t worth living without it.
The speaker in this poem is unknown. It’s likely a woman. But, all that’s certain is that she’s in love with someone in an obsessive and extraordinarily passionate way. So much so, she’d rather die than live without their love.
The tone of this poem is confident and passionate. The speaker is certain about her decision to “die while” she’s still loved. There is no doubt in her voice throughout the four stanzas about what she cares most about in her life. Her passion comes through loud and clear.
The meaning is that sometimes, there are some loves that are far too important and life-changing to be lost. These connections and their resulting emotions are life-defining to the point where someone would be unable to go back to the life they had before. Thus, they’d rather die than lose that other person’s love.
Readers who enjoyed ‘I Want to Die While You Love Me’ should also consider reading some other poems by Georgia Douglas Johnson. For example:
- ‘Black Woman’ – contains the words of a woman, desperate to have a child but unwilling to bring one into the world.
- ‘The Heart of a Woman’ – describes the freedom for which women yearn and the shelters in which they are imprisoned.
Another related poem is:
- ‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott – contains words of advise to someone who has just exited a relationship.