I heard a Fly buzz—when I died— by Emily Dickinson

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What is the theme of "I heard a Fly buzz-when I died"?

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Like many of Emily Dickinson's poems, "I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--" focuses on death and what may happen after a person's physical body dies.  For Dickinson, this exploration of the afterlife leads her to believe that death can potentially be a disappointment instead of something to lean toward.  For instance, there are all the trimmings of a death scene in this poem: there is a "Stillness in the Air" (l. 3) and "The Eyes around--had wrung them dry--" as the dying speaker's loved ones surround her bed, waiting for her last moments.  The speaker has "willed [her] Keepsakes--Signed away / What portion of [her] be / Assignable" (ll. 9-11), and she is looking toward the "light," toward Heaven and its angels.  However, through all of this sadness, there is the fly, an annoyance that breaks up the silence in the room and comes "Between the light--and me--" (l. 14).  By the end of the poem, instead of the speaker heading toward the light, her eyes close and she "could not see to see" (l. 16); there was nothing at the end of the speaker's life except for darkness.  This is a disappointment; most people want to think that there is something beyond this life, but Dickinson questions the validity of that claim.

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mehrnazs | Student

Many of Emily Dickinson's poems center around the idea of living, starkly contrasting it to death. "I heard a fly buzz - when I died" is no different. There are a lot of elements to the poem that directly address the idea of death and set it apart from the continual state of living.

First, lets consider the different senses Emily Dickinson uses to describe what she is experiencing. In many of her poems, Dickinson equates seeing to being alive. We see this in this poem as well. The last line states "I could not see to see - ." Seeing is living. Notice, also, that if we read this line out loud, we could mistake the "I" of self for the anatomical "eye," also adding to Dickinson's conflation of seeing and living.

However, notice in the first line that Dickinson uses the sense of hearing when she speaks of the fly. She did not see a fly when she died. She heard a fly. This speaks to one of the themes of the poem, that we do not know what happens after we die. Dickinson thought a lot about mortality and often wondered whether what she was told in church about the afterlife was true. In this poem, we see her doubts about the finality of life and her consideration of whether we continue to sense things after we stop "seeing."

We also see this lack of finality in death when Dickinson mentions that her will has been read and her physical belongings have been "signed away." However, she still exists. She is still able to perceive things in the world. Thus, another key theme of the poem is that there is more to our lives than our belongings.