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.
- What do you think the fly represents? If you think my interpretation is on task, what can you add?
- 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?