Death in Dickinson's I heard a fly buzz when I died
Emily Dickinson’s poem “I heard a fly buzz when I died” is a reflection on what happens when one dies. In the poem, the speaker is waiting to die. It seems as though they are expecting something spectacular to happen at the moment of their death. This spectacular event they are expecting does not happen.
I heard a fly buzz when I died
By Emily Dickinson
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry.
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable,--and then
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.
The speaker describes their situation on their deathbed. The sense of stillness in the air means that the speaker thinks something important is about to happen when they die. Their mood is very solemn, and the still air brings a feeling of tension. There is not yet a mention of the afterlife, just the speaker waiting for death. The stillness is described as “between the heaves of storm,” referring to the calm that sometimes occurs between storms. This is a very quite almost peaceful stillness, but there is a sign of more things to come. In this case, death is the storm they are waiting for after the calm. The speaker is expecting a big event to happen.
As the speakers loved ones begin to mourn, there is a feeling that they too were gathering around to witness some spectacular event that would happen at the moment of the speaker’s death. All the people present seem to be waiting to witness the king in his power. This appears to be a reference to God, and they expect to see a display of God’s power as the speaker is brought into the hereafter. This is the only mention of the afterlife in the poem. Even this mention of the afterlife has more to do with the process of dying and being brought into heaven then what happens after death. The focus is not the unknown after death, but what happens as one dies. The event that everyone is waiting for is the death of the speaker. They want to see something amazing, and do not seem to concerned with what happens to the speaker after the passing.