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Idea of Loneliness in I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died

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Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Massachusetts, where she lived until her death in 1886. Her poetry was heavily influenced by both poets of seventeeth-century England, especially the metaphysical movement, and the fact that she lived in a Puritan New England town. This, in particular, has encoureaged her orthodox approach to Christianity. Even though she wrote, during her most productive period, over one thousand and eight hundred poems/fasciles, the majority of her works got published posthumously. In her later years, she withdrew from the public sphere, which has contributed to her being known as “the unsocial poet.” Dickinson has, in many ways, shifted the boundaries of what can a “self” entail within for the first person contain. By using a distinctively enigmatic language, she is capable of reaching a heterogenity of dimensions; she explores methodological principles of interpretation. Her original manuscripts contain a variety of graphic marks which, in many cases, are of different size and go in different directions. It is important to state that her work was initially edited by to early editors – this essentially led to an erasure of what is characteristic to her work (the typographic marks) and their replacement with traditional punctation. Conversely, contemporary editors rely on typography that is closest to her inital intention. This essay will discuss the ways in which Emily Dickenson creates loneliness through her lyrical subjects and their effects on the formation of intimity between the author and the reader. In her originally untitled poem, informally named “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“ Dickinson explores the above described premise by the very act of self-detachment, permeating both content and form. When taking the visual side of this poem into consideration, dashes can be seen as an an extension of the subject’s personality. Their appearance after “I” in a number of occasions [when I died -, I willed my Keepsakes -, I could not see to see -] resolves in the subject by means of appearing as someone unstable, not clearly defined. The outcome of an undone “I” is a space that can be inhabited by the reader themselves; a projection is thus made possible. A very particularly intimate bond between the author and reader is consequentially manifested. The second demonstrated aspect of this detachment figures as an act of the subject speaking post mortem. The first line of the first stanza [ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – ] can be used as exemplary. The subject of this poem goes beyond the boundaries of linear time, making utterances to the reader in the present while not being a living part of it. Not only does this content detachment follow its formal predecessor when it comes to creating a space for the reader and thus contributing to intimacy, but it also conceives the aesthetics of the uncanny. Drawing on a previously introduced concept, Sigmund Freud further explored the eerie, strangely familiar, in his 1919 eassy entitled The Unheimliche, by using elemets from the work of a German Gothic writer E. T. A. Hoffman. Familiarity of the lyrical subject, retelling a series of events, is heavily disrupted by a disturbing reality of the provenience of the voice. In this sense, Dickinson’s idea of loneliness lies to an extent in the incompleteness of her lyrical subject. Her inovanite use of specific punctation marks, together with the creation of an uncanny atmosphere, gives the reader an opportunity to get involved in conversation with Dickinson herself. An equally important aspect of this poem is dedicated to Dickinson’s going against set norms. Death had, during the Victorian age, a crucial part within the cultural imagination and one’s life itself. The reality of this inevitable event happening at home led to a cultural phenomenon of what we now understand as deathbed scenes. Mourners, often having provided psychological support, thus also shared a profoundly intimate moment with the one on the sickbed. Yet in her “ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“ the singularity of the subject strikes the reader immediately. The lyrical subject appears to be alone during such an important event of an era, during with it almost reached a status of a public event. Moreover, Dickinson uses a strangely alienated language to describe this. Consequentially, the usually implicated intimacy between the one on the deathbed and those around has alternated to an unusal bond between Dickinson’s subject and the reader. Different dimension of this particular intimacy si created through a symbol used as a tool of communication with roots in questions arising accordingly to different interpretations. The symbol, fly, can be seen as an element that interrupts subject’s narrative, not allowing the poem its closure as a result. Simple and regular; common meter here stands in a direct opposition to the fly which goes against set rules, acting as an iregular, moving force through the whole poem. As soon as it is gone in the last stanza, the subject enters a state of chaos. It is also, in the last stanza [ Between the light – and me-], that this fly embodies the “in between”, a very abstract concept that is Dickinson able to describe in a great detail. This “in between” moment also reflects where is this poem situated, since it is narrated by a voice of someone dead. Conversely, the fly can be also read as a reminder of time, making its appearence everytime an important, dramatic utterance is made. Considering Dickinson’s depiction of death in the context of the Victorian era, it is apparent that her language and overall portrayal have led to her achieving a sense of loneliness within her lyrical subject. It is then through the close communication with the reader, who is presented a heterogenity of interpretations, that an impression of closeness appears.

In her second poem, that I want to discuss, entitled by the editors “It was not Death, for I stood up “, Dickinson situates her lyrical subject in a very particular state of an orderly chaos. The concept of time is interrupted in this poem as well, though this rupture is of a different origin than in “ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“. The subject does not seem to be going against the boundaries of time by crossing them, but by situating itself in what can be called a timeless vacuum. This state even advances to a desperation, when taking into account the words she uses and the unusually violent connotations they bear. Siroccos, in the second stanza, for example refers to a dry, hot wind, originating as dry desert air. ( footnote) According to its location, it inhabits different characteristics, sometimes even advancing to “blood rain”; red sand mixed with the latter. In combination with the word “crawl”, it creates a very haunting image of a paralyzing weather condition, that is slowly embracing the body. This is something very unusal for Dickinson, for she usally builds on either abstract concepts or other generalities. ( Frost, Fire, etc) This is again proven in the last line of the very same stanza by using the word “Chancel”, a very speficic portion of a church. Morever, before modern changes in practice, only clergy and members of choir were permitted in here. This, thus contributes to an isolation of the lyrical subject, a state that permeates through her poetry. Her use of images can in certain implications indicate, that the subject is experciencing what would today be called a panic attack. It is even enhanced by using an apophesis, a rhetorical tool of raising a subject by either denying it or claiming that it should not be mentioned. It can be understood as a formal reflection of an internal ambiguity; a mind in a state of hysteria, moving between sanity and insanity. In addition to this, dashes can be, in this poem, interpreted as a periodic breathing, which, inevitably, is symptomatic to the latter mentioned. Other layer that inhabits an equal share of space is related to a subseqently created intimacy with the reader. The opening line of this poem itself, (“It was not Death, for I stood up”) where the subject immediately brings up the worst possible scenario, demonstrates an unusually desperate subject. Even by using previously mentioned apophesis, the subject seems to reach out to whoever is reading the poem. The narration of “It was not Death, for I stood up “, puts an emphasis on how verbal utterances between two poeple operate; denying what state it is and is not, opening line with an atempt to initiate a conversation. Consequentially, following a trajectory of a dialogue between two people, when only one is present, the poem itself can be understood as a very intimate confession. The lyrical subject of “It was not Death, for I stood up “ clearly shows signs of an ambigious personality; the “I” in this poem endures a rupture. But in contrast to “ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“, this incompleteness is not caused by a visual side of the poem (dashes); it is the content that initiate such thoughts, the mental state in particular. Additionally, symbols that usually stands as a tool of communication ( Fly in “ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“) are here what is seems to be a reality that reveals itself to be false. Dickinson’s use of capital letters usually indiates that a symbol has been encountered, not, however, in this case. This, in particular, can be understand as the subject’s desperation; it is a call for help. Lastly, loneliness as depicted in “ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“ stands on different premises than does loneliness of this poem. In the first case, it is created through detachment and enables the reader to project himself. In the second ine, it mainly relies on the subject’s mental state and invites the reader to a conversation.In conclusion, Emily Dickinson achieves loneliness and therefore intimacy because of many factors. Firstly, her lyrical subjects are capable of detachment, which contributes to the reader being able to relate himself. By doing so, a very intimate connection is conceived. Another aspect of this act is the presence of an uncanny aesthetics with roots in the place where Dickinson’s subject speaks from. Secondly, it has been proved that Emily Dickinson is innovative not only when it comes to form and content, but in approaching her contemporaneity as well. Her going against set norms of deathbed depictions results in a moment of intimacy with the reader. This intimacy even advances with how Dickinson uses symbols; tools of interpretation. Fly in her poem “ I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -“ is for example, a very heterogenous one. Questions that arrise accordingly to certain interpretations are tied up with the space Dickinson then shares with the reader. It is an act that brings closer everyone involved. In “It was not Death, for I stood up “, the subject enters a timeless state, thus going against the concept of time. Despair, where this state advances, is supported by both Dickinson’s use of dashes and connotations behind images created. As an implication of everything depicted, this poem appears to be a confession to the reader. None of this would however be possible if the subject would have been put in a different context. Presented solitude necessarily results in an intimate moment with the reader.  

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