Last Updated on January 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384
Emily Dickinson’s poem “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—” was published posthumously in 1896, ten years after her death. Over the course of her life, Dickinson wrote nearly 1,800 poems, most of which she kept to herself or sent to family and friends. Though a few of these poems were published during her lifetime, the majority were published posthumously, such as this one, which appeared in the third volume of Dickinson’s poetry that was released after her death. Like the majority of of Dickinson’s poems, it is untitled and is referred to by its first line.
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Through the poem, Dickinson explores life and death from a unique perspective: that of a speaker who has already died. Several elements of the poem, such as the significance of the fly and the identity of the “King,” have been subject to great debate and are interpreted in multiple ways.
The first line of “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—” establishes the fact that the speaker in the poem has died and is addressing readers from the other side of death. Additionally, it introduces the figure of the fly, which the speaker describes in further detail at the end of the poem.
The speaker proceeds to describe the atmosphere of the room around her at the time of her death. There was a sense of quiet about her; she compares the “Stillness in the Room” to that “Between the Heaves of Storm.” There were “Eyes” around her—presumably friends and family members who had gathered to witness her final moments. These “Eyes” had been “wrung . . . dry,” and their “Breaths were gathering firm.” After their tears had dried, the people around her prepared themselves for her death: a moment she describes as “that last Onset,” in which “the King” will be “witnessed” among them in the room.
In this atmosphere, the speaker signed her will: she “willed [her] Keepsakes,” assigning her possessions to people in her life. The “Keepsakes” are described as “What portion of [her] be / Assignable.”
After the signing of her will, the fly from the poem’s first line reappeared: it “interposed” with its “Blue—uncertain—stumbling Buzz,” obstructing her view of “the light.” After this, the speaker died: the “Windows failed,” and she could no longer “see to see.”