In Those Years

In Those Years Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the form of this poem affect the meaning?

    Rich uses strong enjambment throughout the poem to express the disjunction between individuals and a shared sense of community. For example, when she writes "we found ourselves/ reduced to I," the first line on its own would seem to express something positive—that the group has achieved a sense of self-understanding—but the next line undercuts that interpretation, separating the "we" from the "I" and emphasizing that the community has not found something positive. Rather, it has only found itself reduced, made smaller and less powerful. Throughout, the form conveys this message: the lines cannot be understood properly on their own, but only in relationship to the other lines around them, and the greater context of the poem.

  2. 2

    How does the shift between the first and second stanzas affect the poem's meaning?

    The poem shifts from straightforward in stanza one to metaphorical in stanza two. The first part of the poem is easier to interpret, as it clearly lays out some of the problems that happen when we focus only on our personal lives: we fail to consider the struggles of others. However, in the shift to stanza two, the strong metaphorical imagery conveys a sense of urgency, inviting us to imagine the vulnerability of the individual. By picturing dark birds plunging through fog, their peaks pointed towards a lone figure at the edge of the shore, the poet in effect "zooms out" from the context of the individual life into the larger forces of the world and of history.