If those I loved were lost

Emily Dickinson

‘If those I loved were lost’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex poem. It uses allusions to describe how the poet, or at least her speaker, would react to the loss of loved ones.

Emily Dickinson

Nationality: America

Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes.

Notable works include 'Because I could not stop for Death' and 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers.' 

Key Poem Information

Central Message: What happens after death is unknown and compelling

Themes: Death

Speaker: Usually thought to be Dickinson herself

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety, Stress, Worry

Poetic Form: Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

Dickinson returns to one of her favorite themes in this poem — the afterlife.

Dickinson uses her characteristic capitalization and punctuation in the text as well as bringing out her broad knowledge in order to create references that readers will have to research to understand. ‘If those I loved were lost’ is a great example of Dickinson’s more allusive poetry. 

If those I loved were lost
Emily Dickinson

If those I loved were lostThe Crier’s voice would tell me —If those I loved were foundThe bells of Ghent would ring —

Did those I loved reposeThe Daisy would impel me.Philip — when bewilderedBore his riddle in!
If those I loved were lost by Emily Dickinson

Summary of If those I loved were lost

‘If those I loved were lostby Emily Dickinson describes how the poet’s speaker would react to the knowledge that she’s lost those she loves.

The poem uses allusions and figurative language in order to depict how this loss would affect her. She first elevates it, though, using references to a town crier and the Ghent Belfry to do so. The bell for the crier’s words would ring out over the town to signal to the world what happened. In this way, she’s stating the importance of these people in her life and how much she’d be affected if they died. In the second stanza, the poem gets more complex, and the speaker uses the last words of a Flemish leader to describe how she believes she’d react to the deaths of those she loved. 

Themes in If those I loved were lost

Dickinson primarily engages with the theme of loss in ‘If those I loved were lost.’ She uses the poem to speak about her reaction through complex figurative language, as well as the broader importance of possible losses. She hates the thought of losing anyone she cares for but uses these lines to try to define for herself and them what she’d do and how she’d handle their disappearance from her life. The speaker ends with the conclusion that she’d be completely baffled by their deaths. She’d be at a loss for words and endlessly seeking out an answer to what happened. 

Structure and Form

‘If those I loved were lost’ by Emily Dickinson is a two-stanza, eight-line poem. The lines do not follow a perfect rhyme scheme, although there are examples of rhyme in the lines. For example, “me” and “ring” in lines two and four of the first stanza are half-rhymes, meaning that only the assonant (in this case) sounds rhyme. Readers should also note the use of parallelism in the first stanza as Dickinson proposes two different but similar scenarios. 

Literary Devices

Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘If those I loved were lost.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, alliteration, and allusion. The latter is quite important, especially in the second stanza, in order to understand the poet’s intentions. She alludes to the Ghent Belfry in stanza one and a Flemish leader Philip van Artevelde in the second. His final words help her explain how she’d express the loss of those she loved. 

Alliteration is a type of repetition that’s concerned with using and reusing the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “loved” and “lost” in line one of the first stanza and “Did” and “Daisy” in lines two and three of the second stanza. 

Enjambment is a formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two and three and four of the first stanza. 

Analysis of If those I loved were lost 

Stanza One

If those I loved were lost

The Crier’s voice would tell me —

If those I loved were found

The bells of Ghent would ring —

In the first lines of ‘If those I loved were lost,’ the speaker begins by explaining what she thinks would happen if she lost someone or multiple someones. She believes that the “Crier’s voice” would announce the event. This is an allusion to a traditional practice of a town crier traveling the streets to spread the news to everyone who lived there. This person usually carried a bell, ringing it as he went and crying out good and bad events. By suggesting that a crier would bring the news elevates the loss to a broader level, as though the person was of importance to an entire town.

The fourth line of the first stanza mentions the Ghent Belfry, one of three medieval towers in Ghent, Belgium. It was built starting in 1313, and its bells were, and still are, used to announce religious events. They were later used for other occurrences outside of the church. This suggests something similar to the last lines, that with the ringing of the bell, something that’s quite important she’d know what was happening with her loved ones. 

Stanza Two

Did those I loved repose

The Daisy would impel me.

Philip — when bewildered

Bore his riddle in!

In the next two lines, the speaker thinks about how she’d react if those she loves passed away. She suggests that the daisy, a flower that’s commonly associated with death (such as seen in the idiompushing up daisies”), would “impel” her. It would drive her to a reaction of some kind. But, she doesn’t reveal what this reaction would be. It’s clear she knows she’d be changed by it. 

In the third line of this stanza, the poem gets more complicated with reference to Philip van Artevelde, a flemish leader and died, wondering how he could’ve met death this way. His final words were: “What have I done? Why such a death? Why thus?” Dickinson must’ve been aware of this fact and was trying to connect her thoughts on death to this famous moment from history. She would be overcome by the loss, completely devastated. 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘If those I loved were lost’ should also consider reading some of Emily Dickinson’s other best-known poems. For example: 

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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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