I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—

by Emily Dickinson

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

This is the first stanza of the poem, and many things are established here. Let's look first at poetic techniques. Throughout most of the poem, there is very little rhyming going on. In this stanza as well as the next two, the second and fourth line are sort of rhyming using a technique called imperfect rhyme. We also see the use of Dickinson's iconic dash-heavy style. This creates a feeling of choppiness and unease, almost as if the speaker is collecting memories and moments from beyond the grave in a haphazard, confused manner. This would make sense, and it conveys the silent chaos of one's dying moments.

And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

This section draws attention to the ambiguity of the "King" figure. Those who analyze the poem are unsure of what exactly is being referred to here, and it was likely left this way on purpose by Dickinson. On the surface, it seems like she is saying that the mourners in the room are waiting for the moment when Christ ("the King") appears, the moment when the speaker dies. But does it have to mean Christ? We don't know if the speaker is going to Heaven, so perhaps it is referring to Satan or even Death. Another popular theory is that the "King" could be Beelzebub, one of the princes of Hell who is also called the Lord of the Flies. Maybe the "King" is the fly itself, who could be a personification of Beelzebub! This one reference leaves a lot to the imagination.

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -

Here she is talking about the sound of the fly but employs color to describe it, which subverts our expectations and characterizes it in a unique way that is open to many different interpretations. We all know what blue looks like, but we all also have different ways of imagining what it feels like, smells like, and sounds like, and we can use this to help imagine the buzzing. Also, it is a powerful example of the dash style, showing how Dickinson uses it almost like a collage, stitching together different images, sounds, and ideas to create one coherent picture.

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