Diehl also points out that the poet's retrospective outlook cannot be overlooked, for "by placing this description in the realm of recollection, the speaker calls into question the current status of her consciousness" (Diehl). Here we come into contact with vivid imagery of the poet losing her faculties. Another interesting aspect we find in this poem is how it represents a personal experience. The poet's thoughts are coming from within. After all is said and done, we read "And the windows failed, and then/I could not see to see" (Dickinson 16). Obviously, the poet does not crack the mystery of death but she does seem to come to terms with it, at least.
The poet takes us on another journey in "I heard a Fly Buzz When I Died." We are told about the "stillness of the air" (3) to the grieving to the distraction of a fly. The poet is communicating to us through the use of our senses, specifically that of sound. For instance, the first thing the poet notices after her death is the fly buzzing. In the last stanza, the poet describes a "blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz" (13). In fact, the fly is the most importat character in the poem. Again, another aspect of death is examined through words and imagination.
The poet does not see herself surrounded by a host of angels. Instead, her death is realized by a fly buzzing.
The question of what happens after death is something the poet could not escape. Terry Heller agrees with this idea, stating that Dickinson was "deeply concerned about the truth of the conventional Christianity taught" (Heller). This type of questioning should not be surprising considering what we see in Dickinson's poetry. Here she ponders what comes next. In "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died," the poet walks with us right up to death and stares it in the face. She wants us to go on this journey with her and ask the same questions. Heller maintains that Dickinson discovers "a clarity of perception that she tries to extend through that instant. Yet what her imagination provides at that crucial instant is the fly, which ends illumination and leaves the consciousness in utter darkness" (Heller). Heller states that even beyond death, the "consciousness remains" (Heller). Nevertheless, the mind can only comprehend so much, and the senses are therefore limited to they can reveal. In short, what the poet is assuming is what we cannot know while we are living cannot be known in death. Heller maintains that what is beyond life "is a blank. The fly points the way, but the living cannot interpret its buzz, and her voice stops" (Heller). Even in death there are questions - perhaps even bigger questions than there are in life.
Dickinson seems to have a problem letting go of nature and those human senses, even during death. Eric Wilson describes "I heard a Fly Buzz When I Died" as a "sublime mystery for readers to contemplate" (Wilson). He points out that an interesting point of this poem is that the "object and subject, are occupied by the same speaker in this poem" (Wilson). The poet can be in both places at once, which allows her to describe what happens at the moment of death. The image of the dead poet completely aware of those that are grieving is a powerful and one which Dickinson conveys easily. Nature, life, and death are somehow connected in this poem about a flash of life before death.
Death, as weird as it is, is something that happens to all of us and has an impact on us in some form or fashion - sooner or later. Dickinson lets us in on this fact in the poem "Death Warrrents are Supposed to Be." In this poem, the warrents are an "enginery of equity" (Dickinson Death Warrrents are Supposed to Be 2). We cannot escape them.
William Shurr agrees with that fact that one of Dickinson's focal points is death. In his book, the New Poems of Emily Dickinson, he notes that it is a subject that cannot be denied - even with new material that has been published. He refers to a Janet Buell essay that centers on this point, which focuses on the "bereavement-filled last decade...
In the essay, Buell states, "Dickinson's form of spinsterhood required courage...She determined to explore immortality in the wider circumference of virginal solitude" (Buell qtd. In Shurr 104).
Indeed, with new lines of poetry, we find that death is a common thought that plagues Dickinson. In one new discovery, we find a piece of a poem that reflects the writer's thoughts on death:
Death obtains the Rose,
But the News of Dying goes
No further than the Breeze.
The Ear is the last Face. (Dickinson Death obtains the Rose 9-12)
Shurr describes Dickinson as a "witty, wise and meditative" (Shurr 106) writer who has "won spiritual truths from solitude" (Shurr 106). Milton Meltzer notes that Dickinson was in her midtwenties when she began to withdraw from her friends and the community. He estimates that this was a point in her life when she was probably "digging more deeply into herself, searching for the treasuares demanding expression" (Meltzer 65). Strangely, Dickinson did not seek publication of her poems in her day and we can believe that as a testament to the tiomes in which she lived or a testament to her personality. While Dicksinson may have lived around those who believed that writing was best kept private and only one's "intimates - friends and family" (69) were to enjoy one's work, we also cannot overlook the fact that writing was, for Dickinson, " a spirirual calling" (69). For even after she was approached with publication for her poetry, she quietly refused. When we consider this aspect of the poet's personality, we must appreciate what she was trying to do through words...explore, discover, and contemplate. Richard Wilbur once said that the poet's chief truthfulness "lay in her insistence on discovering the facts of her inner experience... describing and distinguishing the state3s and motions of her soul'" (Wilbur qtd. In Meltzer 84). Dickinson felt this could only be done in private. Death, however elusive, was one of those topics that always seemed to capture Dickinson's attention. Meltzer agrees, noting that during the Civil War, people "lived intimately with it" (92). Dickinson's fascination with death may seem odd but it is not so hard to believe when it is something that touches everyone everywhere.
No one can deny that Dickinson was an individual and clearly enjoyed her individuality. She was never one to be what anyone expected. Rather, she was brooding and rare. Bloom likes to refer to the poet as "strange" (Bloom the Western Canon 292) but also an "individual thinker" (292). Bloom also explores the notion of Dicksinson as a writer who expresses "desperation" (295) and whose "anguish is intellectual but not religious" (295). Additionally, she wanted "originality even in her mode of despair" (300). This certainly proves to be the point in the poet's topics of death.
Norman Foerster puts it best when he describes Dickinson's poem's as "remarkable for their condensation" (Foerster). It is true that Dickinson is not long-winded. But that does not mean the poet lacks any power in her punch. Her "vividness of image" (Foerster) is still insurmountable. The combination of imagination, whimsy, and intelligence make Dickinson's poems insightful and "still greater excellence in fancy" (Foerster). Foerster agrees that as we read the poems "we ride grand along'" (Foerster) with the poet. There is no doubt that "Dickinson takes us to strange places; one never knows what is in store" (Foerster). Through death, there is hope at understanding something more to this life. One should never be afraid of the questions as Dickinson points out. It is only through asking that we are able to seek out an answer. While Dickinson never did crack the mystery of death, she did take us to places we had never been before. Her point-of-view, her unending questions, and poems are unique because they make us think - something that many people find difficult to do. She is not only inviting us to think, but she is asking us to think about something that is difficult to think about. While death is a part of life, we move through life almost never touching or thinking about the subject at all. Because Dickinson can not only ask these questions but also take us on a leisurely stroll to visit these places she has conjured up in her mind, she proves her skill as a poet. The reality of death cannot be known it can be pondered. Through imagery and symbolism, Dickinson holds our hand as she leads us through this terrain. As Wilson put it, "As we shall see, Dickinson constantly explores the darkness of death in…
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