'What did They do since I saw Them?' by Emily Dickinson

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What did They do since I saw Them?
Were They industrious?
So many questions to put Them
Have I the eagernessThat could I snatch Their Faces
That could Their lips reply
Not till the last was answered
Should They start for the Sky.Not if Their Party were waiting,
Not if to talk with Me
Were to Them now, Homesickness
After Eternity.Not if the Just suspect me
And offer a Reward
Would I restore my Booty
To that Bold Person, God-

Editor 1 Interpretation

"What did They do since I saw Them?" - An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Poem

Have you ever wondered what happened to someone you haven't seen in a long time? Emily Dickinson certainly did, and she expressed her curiosity and longing in her poem "What did They do since I saw Them?" This classic poem is one of Dickinson's most popular and widely anthologized works, and for good reason. In this essay, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in this poem to better understand its meaning and significance.

Theme and Meaning

At its core, "What did They do since I saw Them?" is a poem about the passage of time, memory, and the fleeting nature of human relationships. The speaker of the poem begins by expressing her nostalgic longing for someone she has not seen in a long time. The identity of this person is left ambiguous, but it is clear that they were once close to the speaker and had a significant impact on her life. The speaker muses about what this person has been doing since they last saw each other, wondering if they have changed or remained the same.

The poem can be read as a meditation on the fragility of human connections and the inevitability of change. People come and go in our lives, and even those who were once dear to us can become strangers over time. The speaker's curiosity about this absent person shows how memory can both preserve and distort our perception of the past. We remember people and events, but our memories are often incomplete and subjective. In this sense, the poem can be seen as a reflection on the limitations of human memory and the selective nature of nostalgia.

Structure and Form

Although "What did They do since I saw Them?" is a relatively short poem, it is rich in literary devices and carefully crafted language. The poem consists of three stanzas, each with four lines. The poem has an ABAB rhyme scheme and is written in iambic tetrameter, with four stressed and four unstressed syllables per line. This regular structure gives the poem a sense of balance and symmetry, which contrasts with the fragmented and uncertain tone of the speaker's musings.

In terms of figurative language, Dickinson employs several metaphors and similes throughout the poem. For example, in the first stanza, she compares the absent person to "A violet in the dell." This comparison suggests that the person is delicate and beautiful, but also vulnerable and easily overlooked. In the second stanza, the speaker imagines the person as a child playing in a meadow, which emphasizes their innocence and carefree nature. The final stanza features a metaphorical image of the person as a bird, which suggests their freedom and mobility, but also their elusiveness and distance.

Literary Devices

In addition to metaphors and similes, the poem also features several other literary devices that contribute to its meaning and impact. One of these is repetition, which is used throughout the poem to create a sense of longing and uncertainty. The repeated phrase "What did They do since I saw Them?" becomes a kind of refrain, echoing the speaker's obsessive thoughts about the absent person. The repetition of the word "little" in the third stanza also emphasizes the speaker's sense of loss and nostalgia.

Another important literary device in the poem is imagery. Dickinson uses vivid and colorful descriptions to evoke the sensation of memory and the natural world. For example, the image of the violet in the dell conjures up a specific scene in the reader's mind, while the meadow and bird images add a sense of movement and vitality to the poem. These images help to create a mood of wistful nostalgia and emphasize the fleeting nature of human experience.


In conclusion, "What did They do since I saw Them?" is a poignant and evocative poem by Emily Dickinson that explores themes of memory, nostalgia, and human connection. Through its use of metaphor, repetition, and imagery, the poem captures the bittersweet feeling of longing for someone who is no longer present. The regular structure and carefully crafted language of the poem add to its impact, creating a sense of balance and symmetry that contrasts with the uncertain and fragmentary nature of memory. Overall, this classic poem remains a testament to Dickinson's skill as a poet and her ability to capture the essence of human experience in a few carefully chosen words.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her poem "What did They do since I saw Them?" is a classic example of her unique style and perspective. In this poem, Dickinson explores the idea of time and how it affects our relationships with others. Through her use of language and imagery, she creates a powerful and thought-provoking piece that continues to resonate with readers today.

The poem begins with the speaker asking a simple question: "What did They do since I saw Them?" This question is deceptively simple, as it implies a sense of distance and separation between the speaker and the people she is referring to. The use of the word "They" also suggests that the speaker is not particularly close to these individuals, and that they may be somewhat removed from her daily life.

As the poem progresses, however, it becomes clear that the speaker is not simply asking about the activities of these individuals. Rather, she is using this question as a way to explore the passage of time and its impact on our relationships. She wonders what has changed since she last saw these people, and whether they are still the same as they were before.

The poem is structured in a series of short, fragmented lines that create a sense of urgency and immediacy. The use of enjambment, where one line flows into the next without punctuation, also adds to this sense of momentum. This structure reflects the speaker's restless and questioning mind, as she tries to make sense of the passage of time and its impact on her relationships.

Throughout the poem, Dickinson uses vivid and evocative imagery to convey her ideas. For example, she describes the people she is referring to as "the ones that disappeared," which creates a sense of mystery and intrigue. She also uses the image of a "swelling of the ground" to suggest the passage of time and the way that it can change the landscape of our lives.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the way that Dickinson uses language to create a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty. For example, she refers to the people she is talking about as "They," which is a deliberately vague and impersonal term. This allows the reader to project their own experiences and relationships onto the poem, and to consider how time has affected their own connections with others.

Similarly, Dickinson uses a range of different tenses throughout the poem, which creates a sense of disorientation and confusion. For example, she switches between the past tense ("since I saw Them") and the present tense ("what do They think of me?") without warning. This reflects the way that our memories and perceptions of the past can be fluid and uncertain, and how they can be influenced by our current experiences and emotions.

Overall, "What did They do since I saw Them?" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complex nature of time and its impact on our relationships. Through her use of language and imagery, Dickinson creates a sense of urgency and restlessness that reflects the speaker's own questioning mind. The poem is a testament to Dickinson's unique perspective and her ability to capture the complexities of human experience in just a few short lines.

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