Karen Chase

Before She Died by Karen Chase

‘Before She Died’ by Karen Chase is a poem about how someone’s death, or impending death, changes the way that one understands the world. 

This deeply sad poem contends with easy-to-relate-to messages of love, death, and nature. The poem is quite short, revealing little in its ten lines besides the fact that someone is going to die and alluding to the burden of that in day-to-day life. Chase’s speaker finds themselves relating to the natural world and thinking of this person who has not yet but will soon die. 

Before She Died by Karen Chase


‘Before She Died’ by Karen Chase is a moving poem about the death of a loved one. 

The speaker spends the ten lines of the poem discussing, or alluding to, the fact that someone they love, a woman, is going to die. Their relationship with this person is unclear, but they make it clear that the knowledge that this person doesn’t have long to live is very effective. It changes how they see the sky, the trees, and more. 

Structure and Form 

‘Before She Died’ by Karen Chase is a ten-line poem divided into couplets or sets of two lines. There are five in total. The poem is free verse, meaning the lines use different end sounds with no patterned correspondence. There are some examples of exact rhymes (or rhymes that use the same word), for instance, “you” in the first couplet and “field” in couplets two and three. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include: 

  • Parallelism: the use of the same line structure multiple times. For example, “I look at” is in line one. 
  • Caesura: seen when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, “As if with enough attention, I could take it in for you.” 
  • Enjambment: seen when the poet cuts off a line before the end of a phrase. For example, the transition between lines eight and nine. 

Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-4 

When I look at the sky now, I look at it for you.
the trees, I did not walk briskly through the field.

In the first lines of this poem, the poet’s speaker begins by describing how the sky means something different than it used to. Now, when they look at the sky, they look “at it for you.” 

The reason for this is revealed in the second line when the poet writes, “I could take it in for you.” By looking at the sky now, the speaker notes, they are trying to see it for “you.” Who this “you” is is not entirely clear at this point, but from the first part of the poem (besides the evidence the title reveals)] it seems like this person has either passed away or, for one reason or another, is no longer able to appreciate the sky. 

Something similar is conveyed in the next two lines as it applies to the trees and a field. The speaker “did not walk briskly,” implying that they walked slowly and appreciated everything there as if they could also see the changing trees and fields for “you.” 

Lines 5-8 

Late today with my dog Wool, I lay down in the upper field,
to you, A stand of hemlock across the lake catches

In the next couplets, the speaker brings in their dog, “Wool,” describing how the two walked together and then lay down in a field. The speaker looked “at the blue,” meaning they looked up at the sky, and the dog panted. The poet uses the word “aged” to describe the dog, suggesting that the dog is quite old and may not have much time left to live. 

The poet uses enjambment in these lines, describing how the speaker leaned against their dog and considered “how finite these lustered days seem to you.” This is a curious line that suggests the “you” in the poem has not passed away but, like the dog, may not have long left to live. The speaker wonders, and likely worries, how the “you” to whom they’re directing these lines feel about the time they have left. 

Lines 9-10

my eye. It will take a long time to know how it is

A group of hemlock trees catches the speaker’s eye. This distracts them from the view of the “blue” or the sky and the dog. The speaker notes that it will take a “long time to know how it is for you.” The speaker may have used these lines to suggest that they, unlike “you,” are not experiencing the last days of life or that perhaps “you” are experiencing something so unique that it would take many lifetimes to understand. 

The poet concludes with a simile, saying that it would take “a dog’s lifetime” a long life, multiplied by “seven” (an allusion to how dog age is commonly calculated). 


What is the tone of ‘Before She Died?’

The tone is considerate and thoughtful. The speaker is clearly emotional about the subject matter and spends the lines thoughtfully analyzing the natural world as it relates to what’s going on in their personal life. 

What is the theme of ‘Before She Died?’

The theme of this poem is death. The specific death the poem is concerned with is unknown, but it is not necessary to understand the poem as a whole. 

What is ‘Before She Died’ about? 

It is about what the world was like for one person before someone in their life died. They are aware that this person, a woman, is going to pass away soon, and this fact has changed how they experience everything. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

  • The Dying Childby John Clare – describes a child who is unable to die during springtime but, unfortunately, whose circumstances change when winter comes.
  • Death of a Young Woman‘ by Gillian Clarke – depicts how a loved one’s death lets a person free from their inward, endless suffering. 
  • Lady Lazarusby Sylvia Plath – speaks about powerful themes of suicide and death, specifically as they relate to Plath’s life. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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