Many of Emily Dickinson's poems illustrate a change in the consciousness of the poet or speaker. What are two poems where this happens? How should one trace the process by which the poems reflect...

Many of Emily Dickinson's poems illustrate a change in the consciousness of the poet or speaker. What are two poems where this happens? How should one trace the process by which the poems reflect and create change? What are the similarities and differences between the changes in these poems?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In "I heard a Fly buzz" (465), the speaker is on her deathbed. She begins by saying that she heard a fly buzz when she died, then describes the physical details of the environment. The room was still, people had already cried themselves out. They were now just waiting for the speaker's death: for the "last Onset." She notes that her will has been taken care of, but is finally distracted by the fly. One way to interpret this is that, leading up to her death, the speaker imagined a transcendent experience of death. But when the moment arrives, she is focused on things like the fly's buzz. Thus, her passage from living to dead is marked by the clumsy, buzzing fly. It is then, perhaps from beyond the grave, that she understands that the ways in which she understood the world of the living (seeing, hearing, etc.) did not apply to the transition to death or the hereafter. Thus, she could not "see to see." She realizes that during and after death, visual sight could not help her to know ("see") death and/or what follows. 

In "Because I could not stop for Death" (712), the speaker has died (a common theme in Dickinson). She is seduced, so to speak, by Death. His "Civility" is so innocuous that she rides in the carriage as if on a slow, perhaps even pleasing trip. Again, it is at the end of the poem that the speaker has a change of consciousness: a realization. It has been centuries since Death delivered her to her grave, but to her it has felt "shorter than the Day." It was not until this deliverance that she "first surmised the Horses' Heads / Were toward Eternity -". In other words, it wasn't until the end of the trip that she realized she was in that eternal place of death/afterlife. Just like in "I heard a Fly buzz," the speaker could not understand ("see" and "surmise") death until after it had occurred. Death is so mysterious that common human faculties can only speculate about what it is or what might follow. Hence, the attempt to use poetry to articulate that mysteriousness. 

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