An Annotation of Emily Dickinson's I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died

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An Annotation of Emily Dickinson's I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died

Emily Dickinson's poem "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died" is centralized on the events of death and is spoken through the voice of the dying person. The poem explores both the meaning of life and death through the speaker and the significant incidents at the time of near death that the speaker notices. Many of Dickinson's poems contain a theme of death that searches to find meaning and the ability to cope with the inevitable. This poem is no exception to this traditional Dickinson theme; however its unusual comparisons and language about death set it apart from how one would view a typically tragic event.

I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died

by Emily Dickinson

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 Eyes around - had wrung them dry -

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset - when the King

Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable - and then it was

There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain stumbling Buzz -

Between the light - and me -

And then the Windows failed - and then

I could not see to see -

In this first stanza, the scene of a deathbed is set. No specifics are given about the room, the dying speaker, or the people that wait in the room for an outcome. The fly is introduced and its significance is not explained as of yet. One detail that is heavily stressed is "stillness in the room." The word stillness is repeated and compared with the calm in a storm. This suggests two things: the motionlessness of death and the anticipation of something yet to come. The calm within t...

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...y examined for the beauty and grace of God. In this poem, however, the fly is a messenger to the speaker. The fly's presence both comforts and informs the speaker about death and the appreciation of life. By choosing this creature, Dickinson portrays the beauty in every living thing: even the pesky fly has a purpose and a place on earth and in life. The poem also explains what the dying is experiencing, but it strays away from describing pain and fear and concentrates on how the speaker pays close attention to those that will continue to live. The speaker hopes to leaving something significant behind other than just material goods. She also notices that in the surreal moments before death, the stillness in the room encompasses everyone and everything, including even the air that fills the room. These elements work together to expose the beauty and serenity of death.

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