Dickinson Week Day One: “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—…”

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 –
One of Dickinson’s most famous poems, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—…”, to me, seems to provoke a real examination of both the romanticism and bleakness of death in the moments before it, and balances itself perfectly on the line between the macabre and the utter peaceful completeness that is achieved in its realisation. Dickinson’s focus on the ‘Stillness in the Room’ at the moment before her speaker’s imminent death is starkly highlighted in her capitalisation of this word, personifying ‘Stillness’ as a calming presence, soothing the poem’s speaker in their final moments. This ‘Stillness’ seems to provoke the speaker to pay specific attention to their surroundings and to take advantage of the ability to ‘see’ – Dickinson’s metaphor for ‘living’.
The focal motif of the poem, the fly, in some ways points out the facets of life that we encounter every day but do not stop to appreciate or even notice. As I’ve mentioned already, Dickinson draws specific attention to particular ideas through capitalisation and if we look closely at the words that are capitalised – which includes ‘King’, ‘Window’ – thus possibly highlighting the things that for one reason or another pass us by in our daily lives in our younger years in particular. Of course, Dickinson’s use of capitalisation may be relevant to archaic styles in written expression in the 19th century, but as we are reading her poetry as a contemporary audience this consistent implementation of capitalisation encompasses a whole new meaning for us. The capitalisation of the noun ‘King’ is of particular interest to me, in that – if we infer the usual connotations of ‘King’ in this context as referring to God – it is possible to suggest that if Dickinson is highlighting God as a being that goes unnoticed by us in our daily lives just as we would ignore a ‘Window’ or a ‘Fly’.
When I first read this poem, the ‘Fly’ that Dickinson focuses on seems to represent a much larger idea than we may first realise. It is possible to infer that the ‘Fly’ that ‘interposed’ as the speaker ‘signed away’ their physical possessions – ‘Keepsakes’ – and body, is ultimately a godly figure who comes forth to welcome us into death. It’s appearance may be controversially argued to be an actual embodiment of God himself and that this God is full of imperfection. The ‘stumbling Buzz’ that the fly lets out perhaps highlights that God may not be all that he seems to us as the living and the portrayal of him as an ‘uncertain’ fly tarnishes him with an anthropomorphous exterior.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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