I heard a Fly buzz — when I died —

In this poem, the poet dramatises herself in a deathbed scene with family and friends gathered around; the annotations should help you to develop a critical response.

I heard a Fly buzz — when I died —  The apparently incidental occurrence of a fly’s buzz at the beginning of the poem may at first seem ironically irrelevant to the significant event of death.  It also appears to be a macabre, even darkly humorous, observation that the process of decomposition is already set to take place.

The Stillness in the Room    

Was like the stillness in the Air —    

Between the Heaves of Storm —

The Eyes around — had wrung them dry —   Complex synecdochal personification.  The speaker is a dispassionate observer.

And Breaths were gathering firm

for that last Onset — when the King

Be witnessed — in the Room —    waiting for the arrival of death

I willed my Keepsakes — Signed away

What portion of me be    Orderly dispossession

Assignable — and then it was

There interposed a Fly —    I see this as the proverbial fly in the ointment!  Everything was going so well.  The onlookers are braced and everything has been settled – all is ready for the arrival of death but then the fly ‘interposed’: it placed itself between the light … ‘– and me –‘.  

Bearing our response to the fly at the beginning of the poem in mind, we discover in the last verse that its impact is far more devastating and distressing than death itself.

With Blueuncertain stumbling buzz —   The sudden use of colour and sound contrasts with the earlier ‘stillness’

Between the light — and me —    The loss of  sight is a loss of connection.

And then the windows failed — and then      Windows failing, unsettlingly personified, is a domestic image that conveys absolute breakdown but also, perhaps, weakness, inadequacy and guilt. 

I could not see to see —    could not physically see to experience/understand/ commune?  The loss is absolute and irredeemable.

My Commentary should help you to:

    • Establish Emily Dickinson’s meaning;
    • Consider particular features for close analysis;
    • Formulate a sustained critical response;
    • Develop and understanding of the significance of links between the poems as well as with other writings.

My Dickinson main page. has further information about Dickinson’s writing style, including its structural features.

You may also like to view Nick Courtright’s analysis of the poem


Please go to the Dickinson tab for the  drop-down menu on her poems A-Z or click on the following:

Poems A-G

Poems H-J

Poems K-Z


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