How is Dickinson's idea of death presented in the poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" and "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, the presentation of Death in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" is much more pleasant than that of "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died." For, in this poem, Death comes in the form of personification: A gentleman politely escorts the speaker in a carriage that "knew no haste" as they pass a schoolyard, and fields of grain in order to

pause before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground

which is her grave. In the final stanza, the spirit of the dead woman reflects that she did not suspect that the "Horses Heads/Were Toward Eternity"--that she had been headed to the grave when the gentleman escorted her in his carriage (a hearse?).

On the other hand, in the second poem, "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died," there is a boldness, rather than a blitheness, to the tone of this verse. Clearly aware of her dying, the speaker observes that the mourners await the moment of death just as she does; their eyes have been "wrung...dry" and breaths are held for 

...that last Onset--when the King
Be witnessed--in the Room

Ironically, this grand expectation is met with an ordinary--even repulsive--sound, that of a fly buzzing. In the anticipation of the rapturous entrance of the spirit into death, much like that of the first poem, there is only the auditory image of an insect that feeds upon that which is rotting or dead. Here Dickinson lampoons the folderol that often enters the mourning process: After the momentous executing of her will and the farewells to loved ones, the anticipation of "the King," who will awaken her spiritually, the speaker of the poem hears only a fly buzzing. 

Yet, despite their differences, both poems exhibit a playfulness and wit: the first poem's wit is light and charming, while the second poem's wit is somewhat satiric.

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