I wanna rock ‘n’ roll all nite with Emily Dickinson! I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – Hey Wembley! Here’s a number about a fly! 4th February 2014
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the RoomWas like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm – The Eyes around – had wrung them dry – And Breaths were gathering firmFor the last Onset – when the KingBe witnessed – in the Room – I willed my Keepsakes – Signed awayWhat portion of me beAssignable – and then it wasThere interposed a Fly – With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz – Between the light – and me – And then the Windows failed – and thenI could not see to see –
This sounds almost dull – an uninteresting observation. However… This is not what we expect. The poem becomes a ghost story. Dickinson adopts the persona of someone who has died and is remembering their final moments. I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the RoomWas like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm – Think about associations between flies and death. This already suggests this won’t be very pleasant. We now move from the noise of the fly to the quiet of the room – she shifts the scene. She uses a simile to compare the quiet of the room to the quiet in the air between two parts of a storm – like the eye of a hurricane. What else might these ‘Heaves of Storm’ be?
She now gives us more images of the room. The ‘Eyes’ have been ‘wrung dry’ suggesting the crying that may be associated with death. However, the crying has stopped, suggesting a pause as with the storm. The Eyes around – had wrung them dry – And Breaths were gathering firmFor the last Onset – when the KingBe witnessed – in the Room – Breathing has evened out – is this the watchers or the narrator? There seems to be a lull – as if we are waiting for something. This seems to be what they are waiting for – ‘the last Onset’ i.e. death. However, rather than focusing on the physical aspects of death she tells us that ‘the King’ will be witnessed. Who is this King? Capitalisation may suggest God but it could simply be a personification of Death.
This section seems like a gentle pause (like those moments of quiet between the ‘Heaves of Storm’?) so what will come next? Having been told about the ‘King’, we are expecting big things. However, she goes back to the simple scene, discussing giving away her keepsakes. These are the little things that she can pass on. I willed my Keepsakes – Signed awayWhat portion of me beAssignable – and then it wasThere interposed a Fly – The fly returns. It ‘interposes’ itself, suggesting it has come between things. Is this a bit of a let down after Dickinson’s build up? We have gone from a moment of quiet reflection to having to focus on a fly. This creates a cliffhanger – after a moment of peace this suggests something is about to happen.
Here we see where the fly has interposed itself. But what is this light? Is it a candle, a window…or ‘the light of the world’ i.e. God/death? Would Dickinson understand that image? Dickinson creates the sound of the fly here and ‘Blue’ may also suggest its colour. The form of the line – with its dashes – creates a ‘stumbling’ feeling reflecting the fly’s flight. With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz – Between the light – and me – And then the Windows failed – and thenI could not see to see – This is a strange repetition of ‘see’. What does it suggest? Having been comfortable with family, keepsakes etc the fly has come along, interrupted her and we are left with closed eyes and an empty nothingness. Are these ‘Windows’ the eyes? Is she suggesting her eyes closed and she died?
Summary • Interestingly, there is no real sense of suffering here. The family are sad but the speaker seems calm, serene even. Considering this is the moment of her death we may find that surprising. • If the theme here is death, what impression does Dickinson give us of death? • Clearly, Dickinson is not the narrator here – she’s not dead! Does that call into question whether she is the narrator in the other poems?
THEME How can you link this poem to others? Things to consider: Death Narrative voice