I heard a Fly buzz when I died, Emily Dickinson, Summary, Analysis, Themes

A Comprehensive Study Guide for "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -" by Emily Dickinson

The Poem

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 -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

Summary

The poem "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -" by Emily Dickinson portrays the experience of the speaker's death and the unexpected presence of a fly in the room. The poem begins with the speaker's keen awareness of the fly's buzzing sound amidst the prevailing stillness. The room's silence is compared to the calmness in the air between intense moments of a storm. The people present in the room have shed all their tears and are preparing themselves for the speaker's final moments. However, the anticipated solemnity is disrupted by the entrance of a fly. The fly's uncertain and stumbling buzzing acts as an interruption, causing confusion and unsettling the atmosphere. The fly comes between the speaker and the light, creating uncertainty and hindering the speaker's ability to see. Eventually, the windows fail, plunging the room into darkness, and the speaker loses the ability to perceive anything further.

Major Themes

  • Mortality and the existential experience of death
  • The intrusion of the mundane and insignificant into moments of significance
  • The limitations of perception, understanding, and communication
  • The disruption of expected order and solemnity

Critical Analysis

"I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -" delves into the profound themes of death, stillness, perception, and disruption. Dickinson's masterful exploration of these themes is demonstrated through her use of symbolism, language, structure, sound devices, and the portrayal of attitudes and feelings.

Symbols

  • The fly: Symbolizes the intrusion of the trivial and insignificant into moments of great significance, representing the disruption and lack of control in the face of death.
  • The stillness: Reflects the anticipation and solemnity associated with death, contrasting with the disruptive presence of the fly.
  • The windows: Symbolize the barrier between life and death, representing the limitations of perception and the inability to see beyond earthly existence.

Language

  • Use of dashes: Creates pauses and breaks, adding emphasis and contributing to the fragmented and disjointed nature of the poem, mirroring the speaker's fragmented perception.
  • Descriptive language: Engages the reader's senses, such as the "uncertain - stumbling Buzz" of the fly, adding to the atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty.

Structure

  • Four stanzas with alternating lines of iambic trimeter and tetrameter: Contributes to the poem's rhythm and musicality, emphasizing certain words and phrases.
  • Irregular capitalization: Draws attention to specific words and adds emphasis, highlighting their significance within the context of the poem.

Sound devices

  • Internal rhyme: The repetition of sounds with "fly" and "dry" in the first stanza enhances the musicality of the poem.
  • Alliteration: The use of alliteration, such as "Stillness in the Room," "Breaths were gathering firm," and "Keepsakes - Signed away," creates a rhythmic and melodic effect, adding to the poem's auditory appeal.
  • Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds, like "uncertain - stumbling Buzz" and "Between the light - and me," contributes to the musical quality of the poem and evokes a sense of tension and uncertainty.

Attitudes/Feelings

  • Anticipation: The speaker and those around them are prepared for the speaker's imminent death.
  • Solemnity: The room is filled with a somber atmosphere as everyone gathers for the speaker's final moments.
  • Confusion: The entrance of the fly disrupts the expected order and solemnity, causing confusion and a sense of unease.
  • Frustration: The speaker's inability to see and the failure of the windows contribute to a growing frustration and loss of understanding.

Similar Poems & How they Match

  • "Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson: Both poems explore the themes of death and the disruption of ordinary life. They share a contemplative and introspective tone, utilizing vivid imagery and symbolism to engage the reader in a deeper exploration of mortality and the human experience.
  • "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe: Both poems employ symbolism and create a dark and eerie atmosphere to convey the presence of death. They delve into the limitations of perception and the mysterious nature of the afterlife, exploring the human response to mortality and the unknown.
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