Image for the poem analysis of If those I love were lost featuring Emily Dickinson

If Those I love were Lost by Emily Dickinson: The Actual Meaning and Analysis

Have you ever thought that a small poem of just two stanzas and eight lines can be one of the most perplexing poems ever? Those I Love Were Lost by Emily Dickinson fits the bill, and we’ll explain why. 

“If Those I Love Were Lost” was one of the very first poems written by Dickinson. She wrote almost two thousand poems and almost all of them were never meant to be published. But thank God they were published. 

Let’s take a look at the poem first and then we’ll look at the analysis, meaning, and message Dickinson is trying to convey. Here’s the poem.

If Those I Love Were Lost

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—

Did those I loved repose
The Daisy would impel me.
Philip—when bewildered
Bore his riddle in!
-Emily Dickinson

Analysis and Meaning of If Those I Love Were Lost

Right from the beginning, it is easy to understand the tone and theme of the poem. This poem talks about the sad and unfortunate event of losing your loved ones. But the way Dickinson writes about it, it seems very jarring. 

It almost feels like she does not really care that much about her loved ones. It is like someone saying “I would feel bad” if something bad happened to my loved ones. 

Let’s take a look at the first stanza and analyze it to see what it talks about.

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

Dickinson says that if the people she loves were lost, the “Crier’s” voice would inform her about the incident. During Dickinson’s time, when Twitter wasn’t a thing, the government would appoint bellmen or criers. 

These “criers” would walk around the town with a ringing bell whenever there was some news of importance. From orders of the government to the death of someone, criers were the first ones to inform the people about this important and urgent news. 

If the people she loved were lost, why would the criers inform her? Think about it, the people you love are usually the people who stay close to you.

Perhaps Dickinson is saying that she does not love anyone who lives near her. Dickinson was a recluse and spent most of her life in her father’s house. Perhaps this was one of her reasons for the disdain shown here. 

If those I loved were found

The bells of Ghent would ring

These two lines are again seemingly very simple yet they have a deeper meaning. Why would the bells of Ghent ring if the people she loved are found? 

This is the line where the confusion starts to kick in. Bells of Ghent refers to the Belfry of Ghent. The tower is situated in Belgium and the bells here would toll for multiple reasons, especially to warn people of a marching army. 

The main reasons why the bells of Ghent would ring were negative, bringing forebodings of incoming war. This line creates further confusion. 

Why would the bells of Ghent ring if Dickinson’s loved ones were found? There could be two meanings to this;

  • Perhaps her loved ones are not her loved ones but rather people who are against her. If they are found, it would be a warning for Dickinson
  • Or perhaps Dickinson is saying that finding the people she loves would be such a difficult and impossible task that the bells of Ghent would ring to celebrate such an event. 

Both these interpretations indicate that Dickinson has no loved ones. This is confirmed in the second stanza. 

Did those I loved repose

The Daisy would impel me.

Philip when bewildered

Bore his riddle in!

In the second stanza, Dickinson is talking to a daisy flower. The daisy flower asks her a question. 

It asks whether the people she loved are resting. What does this imply? The people she loved are dead and buried, and a daisy has grown on the gravesite. 

Dickinson had a difficult life. The people she loved; her friends died before her, and she did not like her parents at all due to their controlling nature. Perhaps this is what she is referring to.

The last two lines are also very confusing;

Philip when bewildered

Bore his riddle in!

What do these lines mean? These lines are probably referring to the death of Philip van Artevelde, a Flemish leader who died during battle in 1383.

In a play by Sir Henry Taylor about Philip van Artevelde, his dying words, in a confused way, are “What have I done? Why such a death? Why thus?”

So when Daisy asks her are the people she loved resting, Dickinson is confused. Why did they die? Just like Philip, she could not answer this riddle. 

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in the poem “If Those I Love were Lost” are:

Enjambment– A few examples of enjambment from the poem include:

If those I loved were lost
The Crier’s voice would tell me—

Did those I loved repose
The Daisy would impel me.

Alliteration– A few examples of Alliteration from the poem are:

If those I loved were lost

Did those I loved repose
The Daisy would impel me.

Repetition– The poet repeats the phrase “If Those I loved” twice to highlight its importance.

If those I loved were lost

If those I loved were found

Conclusion

“If Those I Love Were Lost” is about the lack of loved ones in the life of Emily Dickinson. There are not many people whom she truly loves or who love her. If you think about it, it is a morose poem. 

Dickinson is known to express complex emotions in a very simple way, but this time she did the opposite. She expressed simple emotion in a complex way, and it was very much needed. 

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