“If Those I Loved Were Lost,” written by one of America’s greatest poets of the XIX century, Emily Dickinson, explores the possibility of eternal life. The speaker reflects on the fact that news of a death travels quickly and widely. Likewise, if people she loved were to rise from the dead, church bells would toll to tell the news.
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If Those I Loved Were Lost
BY EMILY DICKINSON
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!
Analysis of Dickinson’s “If Those I Loved Were Lost”
Emily Dickinson was one of America’s greatest poets. Dickinson’s poetry commonly has speakers who are eagle-eyed onlookers who see the unavoidable limitations of their imagined escapes and the societies they live in. Dickinson always used the intricate language to express meaning without limiting it, and to express possible, but not yet realized circumstances. Most of her poetry was published in the last years of the 19th century posthumously, and met with stunning success. In “If Those I Loved Were Lost” the speaker explores what happens to people after death. The speaker is sad, and reflects on the fact that news of anyone’s death travels really quickly, so if someone were to rise from the dead, church bells would toll to tell the news.
The poem is arranged in two stanzas. Firstly, the line “bells of Ghent” suggests a reference to the Belfry tower in Ghent, which was used as a powerful symbol and a treasure storage venue. “The Crier” is a reference to the crying villager, or really mourning the death of a loved one. “The Daisy” could possibly be code for “The Devil” given the same number of letters, or it could be a reference to the child’s game “she loves me; she loves me not.” “Lost” in the first line is used to describe a soul that has no hope in the religious sense. News of the sins of the people the speaker has loved and lost would come out in the open if they are lost souls. But if their souls were saved, then their good deeds would set an example for others.
The speaker expresses in the second stanza that her Fear of the Devil would drive her to save her loved ones from his sinister objectives.