An Annotation of Emily Dickinson's I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died
Emily Dickinson's poem "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died" is centralized on the events of death and is spoken through the voice of the dying person. The poem explores both the meaning of life and death through the speaker and the significant incidents at the time of near death that the speaker notices. Many of Dickinson's poems contain a theme of death that searches to find meaning and the ability to cope with the inevitable. This poem is no exception to this traditional Dickinson theme; however its unusual comparisons and language about death set it apart from how one would view a typically tragic event.
I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died
by Emily Dickinson
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 -
In this first stanza, the scene of a deathbed is set. No specifics are given about the room, the dying speaker, or the people that wait in the room for an outcome. The fly is introduced and its significance is not explained as of yet. One detail that is heavily stressed is "stillness in the room." The word stillness is repeated and compared with the calm in a storm. This suggests two things: the motionlessness of death and the anticipation of something yet to come. The calm within the "heaves of storm" is a waiting period for something to happen. That something could be the actual event of breathing a last breath or what happens either simultaneously to the last breath or immediately after. One would assume that this event is being accepted into heaven or meeting God. The stillness signifies both the nearly deceased speaker and the people in the room. They await the death completely still out of respect and fear of death.
The second stanza discusses the state of mind of those waiting by the deathbed of the speaker. They have obviously been crying by the suggestion that their eyes had "wrung them dry." Through this description that they have stopped their weeping it is implied that they have now accepted the death of the speaker. In the second line of this stanza, the people are holding their breath for "that last Onset - when the King be witnessed." The King is probably God in this context and they are all awaiting his entering the room to take the soul of the speaker. The word onset as defined in Webster's Dictionary is "a setting out; start; beginning." This suggests that the death of the speaker is a beginning of an eternal life in heaven and not necessarily just an end to mortal life....