Emily Dickinson was born December 10, 1830 in Massachusetts. As she grew up, she surrounded herself with very few people and seldom left her house. By the1860s, she had completely isolated herself from the outside world. This had a huge impact on her poetry and career. Some of her poetry was based around her fascination with death and skeptical thoughts of immortality. This is where “I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died” fit into Dickinson’s odd personality. Even though the poem’s title sounds straight forward, there were many debates and disagreements over the true meaning behind it. The way this poem is portrayed by Dickinson, lends too many different ways one may interpret it. Dickinson uses mechanics and other poetic elements to convey the themes of death and private vs public life.
Dickinson uses mechanics to allow the ideas and themes of “I Heard a Fly Buzz-When I Died” to come together making the poem complete. It is written in four stanzas each containing four lines. Dickinson also uses an ABCB rhyme scheme. For example lines fourteen and fifteen rhyme, with the endings of “me” and “see”. Dickinson uses perfect iambic meter to keep the rhythm of the poem. Iambic meter means that the lines are each divided into syllable groups of two, and emphasizes the second syllable. Also, Dickinson uses strange capitalization throughout the poem (Kellman Steven 621). For example, in line 1-2 “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died- the Stillness in the Room,” the words Fly, Stillness, and Room are all capitalized in the middle of the sentence. The strange capitalization brings emphasis on random words thought out the poem. Plus Dickinson uses inexact rhyme or slant rhyme in the poem, with words like room and storm. Lastly, Dickinson uses unusual punctuation in the poem using dashes at both the end of the lines and between phases. This shows Dickinson cannot follow the standard rules of grammar (Poetry for Students 143). The first stanza of the poem shows all of the grammatical irregulars Dickinson uses,
“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-,”
However Dickinson can not only use mechanics, she also uses diction and figurative language to build the poem.
Poetic diction is the choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing. Dickinson uses tons of alliteration in this poem. Line thirteen states, “With Blue- uncertain stumbling Buzz-,” line thirteen puts emphasis on the syllable B. Alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. Also in line thirteen, assonance is used with the repetition of the vowel U. Assonance is the repetition of the sound of a vowel in poetry. In “I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died,” Dickinson also uses figurative language to add depth to the meaning on the poem. In line three, “the Stillness in the Air-/” is used as a metaphor. Symbolizing what is known as the center or eye of a hurricane, the absolute calm and quite between the storms of life and death (Poetry for Students 141).In addition to all the other literary elements used in the poem, Dickinson also uses an oxymoron in line seven when putting the words “last Onset” together. Lastly, Dickinson uses an implied metaphor in line four “Between the Heaves of Storms-“implies that the mourners have been crying. Without the basics of poetry, this poem would be impossible, but after the basics are covered the deeper meaning like symbolism begins.
Symbolism is the use of symbols or words to represent ideas or qualities. Dickinson uses strong symbolisms throughout the poem making the reader think harder into its true meaning. The mention of “the King” in line seven uses a Christian comparison meaning the higher power. However, Jhan Hochman believes that Dickinson failed to represent the comparison of the fly to the image of Christ. He believes the fly is representing other things to the speaker in the poem. For example, he says, “There is some blue on the fly, which may give the victim hope.” Going into greater detail throughout his criticism, Hochman also compares the blue of a fly to the color of truth. Also, stating the color represents the detachment of things from this world and their flight of the soul to God (147). From a simple fly to a vastly deeper meaning, this is a way Dickinson used symbolism in her poem. The meaning behind the poem could not be made present if there was no speaker for the reader to base the point of view off of.
The speaker’s point of view is the only one the reader is given in the poem. The speaker Dickinson writes her poem about is speaking from somewhere beyond death. However, not a clear setting of the speaker is ever implied (Lelter Sharon 103). This unique point of view focuses on the sound of the fly. This is something most people would not find important at a time like that (Poetry for Student 141). However, the poem tells a story of the events before, during, and after the speaker’s death. It is also made clear that the fly is interrupting the speakers dying experience, causing a distraction from the events happening. With many debates of the final fate of the speaker present, it is still never stated by the end of the poem. The poem fades into the blindness and silence leaving it up to the reader to decide. The last thing Dickinson uses to complete her poem is the themes behind it.
In “I Heard a Fly Buzz- When I Died,” there are two themes present. The definition of a theme is the subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or a topic. One of the themes, which are easily detected throughout the entire poem, is the theme of death. For Dickinson, death is the “enhancing shadow” of life. Death is something that draws value to life while threatening it daily. In this poem, death has already taken the speaker. However, the poem is equally occupied with life, and the stillness between life and death. The way Dickinson portrays the events in the poem the fly being observed by the dying speaker and then falling out of view as the speaker falls to death. Showing that the audience should learn to appreciate the small things in life, like sight. This is the last thing the speaker has before passing away. Oddly as the title may seem, the death poem Dickinson wrote is about life itself (Poetry for Student 142). Also, the theme of public vs private life is only implied by Dickinson in this poem but never stated. Known for never marrying and spending majority of her life alone, Dickinson was perhaps the most domestic poet ever. Domestic meaning home orientated, she enjoyed privacy but she was able to balance public life as well. The reader sees this come into play in the poem as the speaker, who can be seen as Dickinson, allows a group gathers in the death chamber. The speaker dies in a very crowded room and is still able to notice the fly and experience this private event surrounded by the strangers of the public (Poetry for Students 142). She uses slight hints of her personal life and background to add her philosophies on life into her poems.
In only sixteen lines, Dickinson is able to twist and manipulate the normal way the reader thinks into a deeper interpretation on life. She uses unusual grammar rules, like random capitalization and dashes throughout her stanzas. Dickinson did this all while taking the reader through a twisted poem that could be taken many different ways. With all of the poetic elements put into this poem, there is still a vast amount of mystery behind the true meaning Dickinson was trying to portray.” I Heard a Fly Buzz- When I Died” is one of many poems written by Emily Dickinson but has to be one of the more complexly written ones. This poem leaving the reader with the choice of how to take death upon them, with gratefulness of what has already happed or fear of what did not.
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