"In Those Years" is the second poem in Adrienne Rich's Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (1995). Written after the end of the Reagan presidency, this poem appears in a section of the book entitled "What Kind of Times Are These." It thus explores American identity, and especially American feminist identity, during an era when individualism and small government were becoming dominant ideas in the U.S.
"In Those Years" is a short poem written in two stanzas of free verse with simple and metaphorical language. It explores the themes of individuality, isolation, and sense of community. It narrates from the perspective of a "we"—Americans or women—who, for a long time, have been focusing on their personal struggles, and thus losing sight of the importance of community and a collective struggle against oppression. As such, it is a call to action to take up arms against the violence of history that still rages.
One of Adrienne Rich's most famous poems, "In Those Years" is considered a call to political action. John Nichols calls it a poem in the tradition of W. H. Auden's "September 1, 1939," that is, a poem that considers the value of poetry in a violent world. Nichols invites us to consider Rich as noting that poetry's narrators and "I's" have often been too narrow to have a true political effect. In taking on the perspective of a "we," Rich both laments and tries to remedy the limitations of poetry.