The "dark birds of history" are vague, but they refer to the sources of structural oppression that are invisible when one focuses only on one's own life. As this poem is written in the 1990s by a feminist writer, we could interpret some of these "dark birds" as structural misogyny, structural racism, and wealth inequality. Overall, they are a symbol of the shadowy forces that can gather when society isn't paying attention.
Personal weather (symbol)
The speaker imagines the dark birds of history as plunging into the skies and "weather" of individual lives. Here, weather refers to the idea that each life has its stormy periods, sunny periods, etc. Focused only on the weather of one's own life, one might ignore the external forces that have the power to upend and overturn it (i.e. the dark birds of history).
The shore (symbol)
Although the speaker does not explicitly describe the ocean, she asks us to imagine lone human figures standing on the shore saying "I." This image of a lone individual in front of the ocean is a common symbol of man's fragility. The roar of waves and the immensity of the ocean itself silence any individual human voice.
We vs. I (motif)
Throughout the poem, the speaker stresses the difference between a focus on we and a focus on I. This is achieved at the level of language as well as the level of enjambment. The speaker wishes to convey that "we" is more than a collection of individuals; a true sense of we requires a sense of togetherness and community, as well as the recognition of different experiences within that community.
In Those Years Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for In Those Years is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.