Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedI Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | I heard a Fly buzz--when I died-- | Summary

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Summary

This four-stanza poem for the most part follows standard ballad meter, and the poet uses slant rhyme in the second and fourth lines of the first three stanzas. The poem is narrated from the perspective of a deceased person, but events are not presented chronologically. The first line about the buzzing fly presages an event that comes at the end of the third stanza. The speaker begins by describing the silence among a group of friends and loved ones at a deathbed scene. It is a silence that has come after a period of upheaval or noise and will be followed by more of the same. The mourners have wept their tears and, in the silence, anticipate the moment God ("the King") will appear to the dying person. The speaker mentions she has willed away her earthly possessions, and then, just at the moment when one might expect her to say something significant, a fly buzzes by distracting her from the "light" one is thought to see at death. For the dying speaker, "the Windows failed," and she is prevented from experiencing any spiritual awareness: because she could no longer see she could not tell whether anything momentous occurred.

Analysis

This is another of the many poems in which Dickinson coolly and factually describes the passing from life to death: the process of "unbecoming." With its focus on the fly, a creature associated with decomposition of the corporeal body, the poem provides a particularly unsentimental view of death. Indeed, Dickinson portrays death as being just what it seems to be, nothing more: no deep perception of infinite spiritual reality, no meeting with God. Instead of building to a climax of weeping or meaningful last words, the speaker mentions the mundane act of willing away keepsakes and the similarly mundane, yet annoying, appearance of the fly that interrupts the proceedings.

The fly takes center stage from the beginning—even though chronologically its appearance should occur later—diminishing any sense of a momentous event about to occur. And when it does bumble in again at the end of the third stanza, interposing itself between the light, perhaps of revelation, and the speaker, Dickinson describes the interruption with a rather long phrase containing consonance and assonance—"With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz"—to represent the somewhat oafish entrance of this carrion pest. Having used slant rhyme in the first three stanzas, in the fourth Dickinson finally uses full rhyme in the second and last lines (me and see), perhaps to emphasize the finality of the event.

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