Nobody dies for real in this poem, but death is still all over the place. "When We Two Parted" is first and foremost a poem about the death of a relationship—that's what saying goodbye for a long time is, after all: a kind of death. Moreover, when the speaker says goodbye to his friend, she turns into what looks like a corpse (she's cold and pale). Whenever the woman's name is mentioned, the speaker thinks of death ("knell"), and he feels a little dead himself. Death is sneaky—he's always around, even when you don't think he is.
Questions About Death
- Is the speaker's relationship to his unnamed consort really dead, over, done for good? Why do you think so?
- Do you think the unnamed friend really turned corpse-like, or is the speaker just describing it like this?
- Does the speaker seem dead or lifeless at all? How can you tell?
- Does the poem's language, meter, or rhyme scheme seem "dead" at all? Does it make you think of death for any reason? Why or why not?
Chew on This
You don't literally have to die to be dead. The speaker's estranged friend is, essentially, dead to him. Talk to the hand, lady.
The figurative or metaphorical death of departure and absence can be just as painful and sad as the actual cessation of life. Both can bum you out in equal measure.