I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—

by Emily Dickinson

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Analysis and Significance of Death and the Fly in Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—"


In Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—," the fly symbolizes the mundane and unsettling interruptions of death. The poem contrasts the expected solemnity of dying with the triviality of a fly's buzz, suggesting the unpredictability and ordinariness of death. This juxtaposition highlights the poem's theme that death, rather than being grand or significant, can be disturbingly ordinary and anticlimactic.

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How does Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" portray death?

In this poem, Dickinson presents an ironic portrait of death, relying on unexpected elements to make death seem ordinary and commonplace.

The line opens with a point of situational irony. As the speaker takes her final breath, the final earthly sound that registers in her consciousness is the buzzing of a fly. This is not what readers expect; religious readers might expect a heavenly chorus to welcome her into the afterlife, for example. Instead, her ears are filled with the sounds of a common earthly annoyance. Consider the way humans treat flies: swatting, slapping, shooing. As the speaker lies trapped in an earthly body that is no longer capable of movement, it is the common fly that enjoys its freedom.

Flies are also associated with death itself. Fly larvae are quite effective decomposers. Ironically, this fly seems to have arrived a bit early—just in time for the speaker to recognize its presence and possibly its motives.

Those who gather around the bed of the speaker in those final moments wait in anticipation of God, her "King," to claim her soul. They feel that they are "witnesse[s]" to an incredible spiritual moment at the end of the speaker's life. Ironically, the speaker doesn't see the face of God in those final moments; instead, the "light" in her room, which symbolizes faith and goodness, is blocked by a "stumbling" fly. What an anticlimactic moment!

The irony in "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" demonstrates the everyday and commonplace nature of death. The speaker's final moments reflect neither horror nor the miraculous; instead, the irony stresses the natural progression of the human form.

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What significance does the fly have in Emily Dickinson's poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—"?

I believe Emily chose the fly for two main reasons.  The first reason is a practical one.  'Fly' is a really easy one syllable word to rhyme with.  Looking at how the word is used within the context of the language of the poem, 'fly' was a diction choice based on brevity of length and simplicity.  Using some other sort of insect would have been tiresome and difficult; although she might could have used the word 'bee.'  Bees also buzz.

Dickinson also probably chose the fly for its simple, common nature.  Flys have the reputation for being slightly annoying creatures, always showing up when they are least wanted.  Dickinson incorporates the fly to anchor her poem in a common occurrence that people could readily identify with.

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Analyze the poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" by Emily Dickinson.

In "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" the speaker describes the moment in which she transitions from life to death. In the opening stanza, the speaker emphasizes the "stillness" and quietness of death. The moment is so still and so quiet that she can hear "a Fly buzz." The speaker feels that this still, quiet moment is "like the Stillness in the Air / Between the Heaves of Storm." In other words, she feels as if this moment is the quiet before the breaking of the storm. This is a rather ominous simile, as it suggests that death itself will be loud, chaotic, and aggressive, just like a storm. We might infer, therefore, that the speaker is afraid of what death might bring.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes the mourners who are there to witness her passing, and she anticipates being with Christ ("the King") once she has finally left her life behind. This peaceful moment in which the speaker accepts death is interrupted in the third stanza when the speaker once again hears the buzzing of the fly. The fly here serves to undercut the seriousness of death. The fly to some extent trivializes the speaker's moment of passing, and perhaps in this way Dickinson means to suggest to the reader that death is not something that we should be afraid of.

In the fourth and final stanza, the speaker describes the awkward, ungraceful movement of the fly. It's "uncertain stumbling" perhaps contributes to the sense that death is, in this poem, being undercut or trivialized. The "uncertain stumbling" of the fly perhaps also is meant to echo the uncertainty of the speaker as she leaves her life and is about to enter the unknown realm of death.

In the first line of the final stanza, the speaker describes the "buzz" of the fly as "blue." This is an example of synesthesia, a literary device whereby one sense is described with an adjective usually used to describe a different sense. In this instance, the adjective "blue" would ordinarily be used to describe a sight, but Dickinson here uses it to describe a sound. Perhaps Dickinson describes the sound of the fly as blue to suggest the light of heaven that she is ascending to, or perhaps the word blue is meant to connote that the speaker is feeling melancholy.

In the final two lines of the fourth stanza, the speaker says that "the Windows failed." These windows are likely referring, metaphorically, to the speaker's eyes. The speaker's eyes "fail," meaning perhaps that they close for one final time, never to open again. This, then, is the moment of the speaker's death. In the final line of the poem, the speaker says that she "could not see to see." This phrase suggests an eternal darkness or, alternatively, an eternal, blinding light. The implication is that the speaker has passed over into the eternal realm of the afterlife.

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Analyze the poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" by Emily Dickinson.

This excellent poem by Emily Dickinson represents another of her poems focusing on the topic of death. However, in this poem, unlike others that present death in a momentous or terrifying way, death is presented ironically, as the speaker describes her own death as others wait for death to come to her. She is giving away her last possessions when a fly moves itself to block her sight, and death claims her.

There is an intense irony between the expectations of those with the speaker, awaiting her death, and the way that death actually arrives. Note how the second stanza presents the expectation of those around:

The Eyes around--had wrung them dry--

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset--when the King

Be witnessed--in the Room--

Death is imagined to be this wonderful revelation of God, the "King" in the room itself as he comes to claim the soul of the speaker. Note the way that expectations are raised with the "Breaths" of the audience being described as "gathering firm" in eager anticipation for what is described as the "Onset." How ironic, then, that instead of a miraculous divine appearance, the last sight of the speaker is a fly--an insect that is associated with decomposing flesh--that blocks the light from the window. The move from the solemn tone that is created in the first two stanzas to the rather ironic mood of the final stanza reflects the way that Dickinson is poking fun at the supposed portentousness of death. The sheer ordinary nature of the speaker's death stands in contrast to the way that so many people expect the deathbed scene to be fraught with horror or divine revelation.

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Analyze the poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" by Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson wrote more than 500 poems on the subject of death, and this is one of her greatest.  In "I heard a Fly buzz--", as in another of her famous poems “Because I could not stop for Death,” Dickinson imagines the actual experience of death through the words of a speaker who has died.  This speaker is looking back on the moment of death and recalling just what the experience was like.  As the poem opens, the room is hushed (line 2: “The Stillness in the Room”). The dying woman’s close friends and relatives gather around: a deathbed scene, harkening to a time when people more often died at home than in a hospital.  People have been crying, but as the moment of death approaches, some of them have cried themselves out (line 5: “had wrung them dry”) and are holding their breath in anticipation of the momentous occasion.  The woman has already taken care of her major property but is bequeathing smaller items (line 9: “Keepsakes—signed away”) to her loved ones.  That’s when the fly appears, interposing itself between the woman and her surroundings (lines 11-12: “and then it was / There interposed a fly—“).

The poem’s power comes from the irony of the contrast between the expected, in this case the momentous coming of death versus. actual ordinary cessation of senses.  In lines 7 and 8, all are waiting for “that last Onset” and the moment when “the King / Be witnessed.”  Instead of a majestical King, the woman witnesses as her final sensory experience only a common housefly.  It has been said that hearing is the last physical sense to go and that is the case with this speaker.  As the room goes dark, she cannot “see to see,” but her final awareness is of the buzzing of the fly.  The onomatopoeia is very effective: “buzz” in line 1; then repeated with a capital letter, “Buzz,” in line 13 and rhyming with “was” from line 10.  Even more powerful is the interplay of  imagery and consonance in line 13 (“With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz”) to emphasize the color, motion and sound of that pervasive fly.  Some readers will also see the fly as the symbol of death, again in contrast with the King.  The symbol of death is not majestical or grand as the King would be; it is ordinary and even repulsive as the sense of life fades away to nothing.

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Discuss the sounds in the poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" by Emily Dickinson.

In Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—," our attention is drawn to sound first by the use of onomatopoeia and the word "buzz."

This word draws our attention perhaps more so than the fly, even though it ("Fly") is capitalized which might initially catch our attention as the reader.

Other words that draw our attention to sound are "stillness," though this word, when combined in the simile "like the Stillness in the Air — Between Heaves of Storm—" gives us the sense that the stillness is charged, not dead.

We also hear sound with the word "breaths," which are also not still, but "charged" with the fear and preparation of impending death ("For that last Onset — when the King / Be witnessed...").

At the end of the poem, the "uncertain stumbling Buzz" may refer to the narrator's uncertain perception of what she hears as her senses fail, or may symbolically represent her uncertainty as she approaches the new, undiscovered country (as described in Hamlet): death.

References to sound abound through the poem, though even the stillness referenced does not necessarily mean quiet or emptiness.

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What are the implicit and explicit meanings of Emily Dickinson's poem "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—"?

Let's start with the easier—the explicit. Our speaker starts by saying that she literally heard a fly buzz when she died. Move to stanza two and we learn that the room gets quiet and it would seem she sees God enter her room. In stanza three she shares that she has willed away her belongings and just before her last moments, a fly interjects itself into her line of vision. In her final stanza, the speaker shares that the last thing she sees before it all goes black is the fly, with its continual buzzing.

When we look more deeply, we see our speaker sharing her struggles with the eternal life and the natural life.  Through each stanza, we see her balancing both spectrums, perhaps to remind us how intrinsically tied together both worlds can be. As she wills away her keepsakes, and we assume is taking her final breaths, she is brought back to her earthly place with the fly appearing in her line of vision, ultimately blocking her first look into the afterlife. But if we go back to the first line, we can infer that our speaker is able to unshackle herself from this world because she writes "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—". With the last portion, we learn that this poem was written post-mortem, a truly interesting perspective.

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