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“I heard a Fly Buzz When I Died” by Emily Dickinson
Summary of the poem
The poem “I heard a Fly Buzz When I Died” is one of the most remarkable and interesting poems written by Emily Dickinson. The poem describes the scene after the speaker’s death like her earlier poem “Because I Could not Stop for Death”. This poem dwells upon the thoughts beyond the grave.
The first stanza introduces us with the ambience and sets us for the ensuing events. The poem begins with the appearance of a fly. It interrupts the stillness in the room. The quiet in the room is not permanent.
The peace presented there is something before a big event. In the poet’s words she describes the stillness and peace in this way: ” The Stillness in the Room, Like the stillness in the air between the Heaves of Storm”.
The next stanza reveals the presence of many people in the room. Now we come to know that they are waiting for the speaker’s death. The room is so quiet that the speaker can hear a fly buzz. The near and dear ones present there have finished crying. In her line the poetess describes it like this: ” The Eyes around—had wrung them dry”. They are preparing for the speaker’s last moments.
This line describes the scene:” And Breaths were gathering firm, for that last onset”.
The speaker knows that it is presumed that the speaker will see God but there is a rhetorical question “Who will lead her to the afterlife?” The poetess writes When the King/ Be witnessed–in the room..”.
According to the Victorian tradition of death bed scenes, the speaker has drawn her will and given away all her material possessions. In her word,s the poetess says ” I willed my Keepsakes– signed away, what portion of me an Assignable.
The sudden appearance of a fly interrupts the speaker’s thoughts it distracts the speaker.
Finally, the speaker becomes unconscious. The poetess describes the scene in this way: “And then the Windows failed, and then, I could not see to see”. The poem ends with this line. The readers imagine that the speaker has breathed last.
Form of the Poem
The poem follows the pattern that identifies uniqueness of her writing. The poem has trimeter and tetrameter iambic lines. There are four stressed syllables in the first and third lines of each stanza, and three stressed syllables in the second and fourth line of each stanza. Long dashes cause interruption or pauses. This use of long dashes is quite intentional. The rhyme scheme is A B C B. This unique technique in her poem is quite intentional to build tension. When the poem is complete after the death of the speaker, a sense of true completion is there.
The present poem like many other poems written by Dickinson presents the speaker communicating to the reader from beyond the grave. The poem describes the scene just before the speaker’s death and the final line declares that the speaker has breathed last. The poem describes how the speaker followed the Victorian tradition of the last moments and signed the will giving away all the speaker’s material possessions. We can easily feel that the speaker is not present in the human form in the lines of the poem. The speaker describes the scene from the vantage point where nothing is material. Like her many other poems, Death is the most important element of the poem. In the opening stanza, the speaker describes the room using metaphors. There is imagined stillness prevailing in the room. “In the Room” has been repeated the phrase is in the first and second stanzas. She seems to be emphasizing on the point that the room is the setting of the poem. The sudden appearance of the fly becomes so significant because the people present there are quiet their eyes have also dried. The character of the fly best represents the poem’s climactic moment. This small creature is present between life and afterlife. It gives a sense of spirituality .it is so and significant but so highly significant, for it seems to be supplanting spirituality in the afterlife. On the other hand, we can interpret the presence of the fly in this way that small creature is alive and buzzing around. It seems to be giving a sense of transitory value of human life. The speaker is about to die but that fly is buzzing around. It might also be seen as the helplessness of living beings and the moments when death is almost imminent. It is generally presumed that everything ends with the end of this life but the writing of the poem from beyond the grave seems should be hopefully suggesting that there is afterlife and not all get lost.
heaves – coughs
interposed – interrupted
assignable – selected
Questions and Answers
1. What is the setting of the poem?
The speaker is on her deathbed when she hears a fly buzz above her.
2. What is the metrical scheme of the poem?
The lines alternate in tetrameter and trimester iambs. It should be noted that this pattern is one of Dickinson’s trademarks.
3. The first stanza of the poem compares the speaker’s room to a storm using what literary device?
The comparison is made through a simile.
4. To what is Dickinson referring to when she writes of “the king” on line seven?
Dickinson is referring to God, who will “be witnessed in his power” when she dies.
5. In your own words, describe what role the fly plays in the speaker’s death.
Answers may vary. Example: Just after the speaker has signed her will and faces death, the fly comes between her and “the light”—which could signify a light in the room, or the light of God.