In class, my peers were discussing the importance of the fly's buzz being the last conscience memory Dickinson has before death. Everyone concluded that the significance of the fly's buzz was to...

In class, my peers were discussing the importance of the fly's buzz being the last conscience memory Dickinson has before death. Everyone concluded that the significance of the fly's buzz was to portray how irrelevant petty details such as a fly's buzz can impose on such harsh moments such as last moments before death. 

But, I thought the fly's intrusion had to be more than that. I assume it has to be more significant because fly's typically are viewed as disgusting little creatures. They're known for spreading disease and they sit on poop, ew. Then it occurred to me that in this moment of death, depending on how spiritual one's views are, that she is about to face judgement. I have outside knowledge about Beelzebub who was an angel cast out of heaven along with Lucifer. Beelzebub I recall is known as "Lord of The Flies" and I think Dickinson was trying to portray that during a peaceful moment where her death is seemingly peaceful that she has been interrupted by a demon to take her to hell instead.

With little background knowledge of Emily Dickinson, I assume she probably knew about the existence of Beelzebub because I think she had a christian background. I looked online and searched the meaning of "I Heard a Fly Buzz" in hopes i would see something at least related to something pertaining to Hell, but unfortunately I can't find anything. Even worse it's not like we could have had any personal insight from Dickinson about the interpretation of her poetry because she died before anything of hers was published. Grrrr... Can someone please discuss this with me I would greatly appreciate any insight or commentary towards the significance of the fly's buzz.

Expert Answers
Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The notion of the fly as gatekeeper to judgment and damnation is interesting, and certainly has mythological and iconic merit. Religious imagery often features flies as symbols of the grotesque and the repulsive. At the same time, flies also repulse us in the natural world. They carry diseases, feed off dead and wounded animals, and engage in other behaviors we find generally disgusting. Both naturally and supernaturally, the creature has come to represent something more than annoyance: the fly triggers many of our deepest, most primal fears and repulsions as well.

Your reading of the fly in this poem seems informed by the supernatural associations we have regarding flies. I think the text supports a more naturalistic interpretation. This poem is distinctly preoccupied with the natural, material world; the narrator eschews any spiritual or supernatural meaning to her death. The fly is buzzing around her simply because she is about to become a carcass, i.e. food. It is her awareness of the fly that causes her to realize – and find peace with -- her own impending, inevitable death. Here the fly is not standing in as a symbol for something else. It is not representative of a supernatural concept such as judgment. On the contrary, the fly is simply itself: an annoying little buzzing creature that picks of the flesh of the dead.

Dickinson’s description the fly in the third stanza supports this naturalistic read:

“With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz – Between the light – and me.”

This fly is not the enlarged, grotesque creature of our nightmares. It is just an ugly, annoying part of the physical world. In this poem the fly, the light, the window, and the narrator’s own death are stripped of any spiritual meaning. They are simply events: mere facts that can be neither changed nor sublimated into anything “higher.”

Read the study guide:
I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question