Response to “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died-”

In contrast to the other Dickinson poems that were in the assigned reading, this poem does not come across as especially harsh or sorrowful. Where the other poems contain a lot of what I view as sharp language and foreboding or depressing descriptions, this poem conveys a more serene image.  The speaker of the poem can be recognized as speaking posthumously, as he/she notes “when I died,” (1) which appears to be in past tense. (For the purposes of this response alone, from here on out I will maintain that the speaker is female.) Notably, the first observation that the speaker makes about her death is not in regards to a loved one’s tears or sorrowful goodbye, but rather, a standout detail about her death scene is a buzzing fly. It’s almost as if the speaker is reinventing everything that took place at her death bed, she could be telling it over to someone (in heaven I guess) and she starts off, “So there was a fly buzzing and ….” Also, I noted that this poem has mostly enjambed lines, with the exception being the lines that end in dashes, which I think contributes to the loose flow and light tone in the poem. In this sense, the speaker’s relationship to her own death seems to be one of serenity and acceptance, as she maintains the ability to focus in on small details at the time.

Additionally, in line 2, the speaker describes the room as still. “Stillness” would not be number one on my list of adjectives in describing a death scene. Such words like sadness, wailing, or farewells pop into my head first. Also, the speaker writes, “for that last Onset- when the King be witnessed- in the Room-” (7-8), which I believe ties in a religious element to the death scene. In Judaism, we believe that one of the places we feel G-d’s presence the most is at a person’s deathbed, so when I saw this line referring to a “King,” I understood it as referring to the ultimate King of the universe. Coinciding with this, it stood out to me that the speaker refers to a religious concept when describing a time of death, a time that is commonly viewed as solemn and mostly devoid of spirituality/good energy. (Another interpretation could simply be that the speaker is a princess and her father was in the room.) Again, these two things reinforce the fact that the speaker is at peace with her parting from the world.

Lastly, the speaker seems to calmly check off everything on her “to do before I die” list. Did I make a will? “I willed my Keepsakes- Signed away” (9)- check. And then, when the end is near, and the speaker has almost reached the “light” (14), she notes again, that there was a fly present. To me, the fly is mentioned to bring out the point that the speaker is tuned in to everything going on around her until the last moment. There is no despair or regret there.

  1. What do you think the fly represents? If you think my interpretation is on task, what can you add?
  2. As is characteristic of Dickinson’s poems, there are several dashes interspersed throughout this poem. What purpose do you think they serve here? Can you tie it in to the speaker’s relationship to death?


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7 Responses to Response to “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died-”

  1. Rani says:

    In my opinion, the fly is meant to represent the many distractions of life. Rather than using her final moments to enjoy the company of her loved ones and marvel at her life, the speaker becomes so distracted by this fly. The narrator keeps noticing him fly around the room. Dickinson means for the fly to represent the manner in which people constantly get distracted, even in some of the most monumental moments of their lives. Additionally, the dashes in the poem cause the reader to read the piece in a halting manner because they must constantly pause for the dashes. However, the erratic placement of the dashes also mimics the fluctuating flight path that is characteristic of flies. This choice of syntax is meant to add another layer of complexity to the poem, thus emphasizing the importance of the fly and his distracting nature in the narrator’s final moments

  2. Jeremy says:

    Based on what we have learned in class, the dashes are commonplace in Dickinson’s poems. However, Usually they seem out of place and with no general discernible pattern linking them. However, as you have pointed out in this poem they are used when enjambment is not. Perhaps in this poem she is creating and following a rule that they are used as breaks.

  3. ReinoldRojas says:

    As a response to your first question about the fly I believe that she is speaking about the fly because it is the most exciting thing in the room. In this poem, I believe that the author is on their deathbed with their family at their side. However, because of the attitude that everyone has about death, they themselves are just as sad and still as the one who is dying. This reflects in their attitude and the author is able to notice this. She speaks about the fly first, and so much, because it is the most interesting thing going on before she dies. I don’t think she is recreating the events of her death from an afterlife. It seems unreasonable to me to have someone recall a fly in the room in the moment of their death.

  4. Mika Katz says:

    Something I initially noticed when reading his poem out loud was Dickinson’s rhyming pattern. Words like “room” and “storm” or “fly” and “died” did not rhyme smoothly on my tongue when reading them, and I think that that’s an important thing to note. Dickinson was probably using this technique to create some sort of tension for the reader. The poem described a scene that was very different from any poem that I’ve ever read. In this quiet, silent atmosphere the speaker hears the buzz of a fly while on her deathbed. I found it to be a very sad scene in the poem, especially when reading the description of those preparing and crying around her deathbed. It is also a scene that is very relatable if anyone has ever experienced the loss of someone, and how difficult that can be. In my opinion, the dashes serve as a transition. Each time a dash is introduced, some aspect of the poem drops. For example, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –“. The dashes are dramatic and represent a change in tone. They create important pauses with a specific meaning.

  5. Aiyanna Nixon says:

    I agree with Deborah’s idea that “the fly is mentioned to bring out the point that the speaker is tuned in to everything going on around her until the last moment.” Dickinson starts the poem with “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died” (1) and then writes “There interposed a Fly -With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz” (12-13). I feel like these two lines support that idea, as the poem is written in past tense but the fly was in present tense. I think the fly can also show how the speaker’s attention to detail sharpened moments before he/she died. I think the purpose of the dashes are to give pause at specific points. These points place emphasis on the emotion the speaker was feeling as she died. It could also represent the slowing of the breath and/or heart throughout the poem. I agree that the poem seems a bit more “serene” than Dickson’s other poems. However, I disagree with the lack of regret. I feel that the speaker is not completely at peace with her death. First reasoning being that the speaker is talking about death in the past tense. The second reason is because the speaker says “With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –“ (13). Here the speaker feels uncertain. He/she also says “And then the Windows failed.” The speaker describes this last moment as a negative one. I feel that someone who was more at peace with death would have described the last moment with more of an indifferent description.

  6. wtronrud says:

    Breaking Bad has tons of Walt Whitman references. I know, not Dickinson, but the two poets play with similar themes of death. Perhaps the fly in the show is a reference to Dickinson that no one has uncovered? This blog post discusses Whitman and Walt’s obsession with flies more:

  7. I would very seriously like to compare the meaning of the fly to an episode of Breaking Bad. In the episode, Walter, the science-teacher turned meth cook is distracted by a fly in an otherwise clean laboratory. He is transfixed by the fly as the world around him turns into chaos. The fly frequently returns as a harbinger of death. I am not sure I entirely agree that this poem is not sorrowful. I think the lightheartedness of the fly is simply a cover for the darkness contained in this poem. It is hiding something else. It is hiding the details of the sorrow of death, when as the speaker lays dying she chooses to be transfixed by the fly rather than truly accept reality. Perhaps this how she so non-nonchalantly says “when I died,” because she is absorbed by this insignificant fly and sets aside deeper questions.

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