Heard a Fly Buzz by Emily Dickinson Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

heard a Fly buzz" by Emily Dickinson

In her poem "I heard a Fly buzz," Emily Dickinson explores the moment just before the death of the narrator, as she watches a fly buzz about in the final moments before sight fails her. In comparing the human experience to the buzzing-about of a fly in the face of a mortal curtain, Dickinson presents a simultaneously clinical and emotionally subjective consideration of death that examines the minute physical details of a scene in order to extract some ultimate meaning before the finality of death. The fly serves as a reminder of the banality of death as well as the importance of the meaning bestowed by human perception.

According to Eric Wilson, in his essay "Dickinson's Chemistry of Death," "Dickinson, avatar of Janus, takes a double stance […] she approves the power of the scientific method for exploring the corpse while undercutting the validity of scientific conclusions about the enigmas of dying" (Wilson 28). Though at first glance "I heard a Fly buzz" appears to have no explicit examination of a corpse, in fact the narrator's own body is the corpse, even if it does not fully become that until after the conclusion of the poem. Thus, the fly, with its "uncertain stumbling Buzz," can be initially read as a literal fly buzzing around the speaker's soon-to-be-corpse, the last image the speaker sees before "the Windows failed" and death overwhelms her (Dickinson lines 13, 15). In this initial reading, the fly represents the coldly analytic presentation of the body and works in conjunction with the poem's strictly sense-perceptional description of the moment of death. Aside from the third stanza, each subsection of the poem involves a sense perception of the immediate environment of the soon-to-be-corpse, but these sense-perceptions offer the bridge between the speaker's "double stance"; on the one hand, these descriptions seem to fit in with the strictly scientific, objective presentation of the body moments before death, and the attention to the fly can be seen as a way of demystifying the corpse and its accompanying fauna. On the other hand, these same sense-perceptions offer a look at the ultimately futile human attempts at finding meaning in the coldly objective world, because each of these perceptions is automatically given an additional weight and ultimate meaning, as they are the final sense-perceptions of the speaker. In this way, the fly is elevated to an almost totemic position, because it offers one final subject for which the speaker to orient her thoughts around before the finality of death erases all perception and thought.

That the poem requires reading on the objective, scientific level as well as that of a subjective consciousness comes in the first line, "I heard a Fly buzz -- when…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. "I heard a Fly buzz." Poets.org. Poets.org, 2011. Web. 5 May 2011.


Ryan, Michael. "How to Use a Fly: A Column."American Poetry Review. 33.2 (2004): 15-17.


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