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Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” was written in 1862 and was published posthumously. It has been considered as one of her most famous and revolves around the idea of death but told from a dead person’s point of view. The seriousness of death is undermined by the arrival of the fly. However Emily through this poem doesn’t philosophize death, instead casts doubt on religious and social tensions.
About the poet
Emily Dickinson, an American poet, is one of the most influential writers in American literature. She was recognised posthumously through her intricate works handling issues like death, love, human experiences and so on. She often retorted to using conventional writing style by implementing short lines and dashes, in order to create a rhythm which enabled multiple layered interpretations. Although she is considered quite a canonized figure, it is only four years after her death, in 1890 that her first volume of poems was published.
It is a four stanza poem, further broken down into sets of four lines each, known as quatrains. Majority of the rhymes in these stanzas are half rhymes and dashes have been included to urge the readers to come up with multiple interpretations.
Summary and Analysis
I heard a Fly buzz - when I died - The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air - Between the Heaves of Storm -
The opening line serves as an intrigue to the readers and they are immediately drawn towards the line that states that someone has heard a fly buzz after dying. It is indeed paradoxical but the speaker offers such realistic description that one cannot help but wonder whether it is possible or not. The idea of death doesn’t always stir an interest in everyone but when the speaker mentions that in a still room even after dying it could hear a fly buzz that interests the readers. The sharp contrast has been established in the very first stanza. The speaker goes on to describe the room which is so still that calm can settle between storms.
The poem starts with the juxtaposition of life and death in one room. As the speaker breathes its last, a fly buzzes inside the room. The bountiful life clashes with the solemn death sharply. The speaker, who is apparently dead, marks the fact that the stillness and sombreness of the room is cut by the entry of a fly. The trivial fly shows that even after death life must go on. Death is just another part in life which is bound to happen. Everything remains silent around the speaker’s deathbed yet the only thing that sparkles with life is the fly buzzing around. The poem undermines the otherwise idea of death as a grand moment in a person’s life.
The Eyes around - had wrung them dry - And Breaths were gathering firm For that last Onset - when the King Be witnessed - in the Room -
In the second stanza, the speaker’s focus shifts from that of the fly to the stillness of the room as she begins to talk about the people mourning there. Even though people around the speaker are mourning, apparently their eyes were “dry” as no one has cried over the narrator’s death. And this is solely because everyone had already shed all the tears they had to shed. The speaker continues by saying that the room is so still, one could hear the breaths of everyone present there. “The King” which could either refer to God or to Death is someone the speaker is expecting to show up at any moment and be done with the existence.
Here the readers note that even before dying the speaker has anticipated her own death. She is awakened by the rude interruption of a fly in an otherwise quiet room. The speaker comments that the room filled with the mourners was rather quiet and lacked anxiety. The mourners were plunged into a deep grief but no longer were they crying. Death here has been presented as a serious affair. One always wails and grieves vehemently at the loss of a loved one. The final moments of the departing soul is always viewed as a journey to the unknown and the others weep for that unknown. The mourners surround the dying person and appear as if they are accompanied with pomp and show. “The King” stands a bit abstract but everyone, including the speaker, are waiting for its arrival with bated breath. One can assume everyone is quiet so as not to miss the departing moment of the speaker’s life.
I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away What portion of me be Assignable - and then it was There interposed a Fly -
The speaker of “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died” implies in the third verse that all was ideal, and the speaker was prepared to pass away until the intrusive fly intervened. The speaker asserts that it had each of its “keepsakes” assigned to particular individuals. The narrator’s wishes were in accord. The atmosphere in the space was calm and still. But when the speaker was about to pass away peacefully, the fly began to buzz.
The passing away of the speaker brings forth a forlorn mood of despair for the mourners. They are all gathered around to pay their respects to the dying person and are terribly sad. The journey to heaven is apparently considered a sight worth witnessing as seen by the mourners. The dying speaker has shed all earthly attachments and is departing. However the main interest in death doesn’t lie in the eyes of the person actually dying but to the people watching it. Death as an act is taken very seriously by them. Ironically it is the little fly that has interrupted the grand process marking how trivial it is.
With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz - Between the light - and me - And then the Windows failed - and then I could not see to see -
Things become unsure in this final verse, and viewers can sense the speaker’s concern as it portrays the fly in his doubt. He buzzes around, uncertain of where to settle. The speaker is disturbed by this ominous buzzing as one nears death. People often talk of the beacon that they journey towards when they recount their close calls to death. The speaker loses her ability to see the outside world abruptly, followed by its total loss of vision. The speaker provides the listeners with this mental picture of the final moments: blackness and an unsettling fly. It appears that the speaker thinks that a vibrant inviting light ought to have been there at the exact time of death. In the calm of the room, the speaker must have been accompanied by those who adore the narrator.
What the speaker intends to say is that there’s an illumination like that, but a fly hums in front of her. There was a disturbance in her serene time of death, which was intended to be when she accompanied the bright illumination from this existence to the last. The uncertainty of a fly’s motion is paralleling the speaker’s state of mind. The intervening light acts as a curtain between life and death; between mortality and immortality. The materialistic life on earth is coming to an end for the speaker as the windows in front of her fades to a background till it’s no longer there. Death diminishes all other immaterial things from sight, hence the speaker is unable to see anything at the time of her death.