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 —
The Eyes around — had wrung them dry —
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset — when the King
Be witnessed — in the Room —
I willed my Keepsakes — Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable — and then it was
There interposed a Fly —
With Blue — uncertain stumbling Buzz —
Between the light — and me —
And then the Windows failed — and then
I could not see to see —
Wow what a richness of interpretation here!
Some time ago I wrote an essay about this poem that very well may be the most beautiful poem that Miss Dickinson ever wrote. It is about the line: -whatever portion of me be-:
“When I let my eye wander once more about the poem and I set my mind out to wander about in the dark forest of my life experiences, I come across a little brook that “babbles on the pebbles” of a film that I saw some thirty years ago. A film that had been adapted of a novel by William Golding. This novel had been published in 1954 and the film was released in 1963.
As I had never read the novel, I started reading it, as soon as the brook had whispered its Kyrie Eleison tune into my ears. No doubt that most of my readers have read this book and know its title: Lord of the Flies. Maybe not all of them though, will know its original working title, but I want to start with the final published title, as that seems to be closest to our theme at hand.
Lord of the flies, is a literal translation of a Hebrew word: ba-al-z-bub, from ba-al “lord” + z-bhubh “fly.” We know that word from the bible as: Beelzebub, by later Christian writers often taken as another name for “Satan,” though Milton made him one of the fallen angels.
So it is safe to assume that Dickinson has wanted to portray death as not just a King, but also as a ruler, a lord of evil spirit. Is that all? Does the fly just stand for the evil spirit, or might there be more?
Yes, there ís more, or rather, there is a better fit with the words in the poem; a more precise match with the central idea in it. I stumbled upon that idea, after I had realized that Golding initially, had given his novel another title than the finally published one. His working title was: The Stranger That Lies Within. Immediately after my realization, I knew there was something very special about this idea of introducing the fly in the poem, but I could not really lay my finger on it. It was only after several days, that one night, I woke up in the middle of it and knew I had found it! (That became a Wild Night with thee, Emily!)
Could it be, I thought, that the fly stands for a specific part of the person dying? For the part that does not really belong to her? The part of her that has been adapted to other people? (I will use the word Other, with a capital O, to indicate other people in general). The part that does not belong to her real or essential or authentic self, is strange to it and has been distorted so as to make her more sociable; acceptable for society? The part that all of us have internalized in order to be able to live together socially? The part of us that is transferable? The portion of me that be—Assignable … ?
Well, to ask a closed question is to specify the dimension of the answer. It ís the portion of us, as Golding so aptly showed, that can make us into mass-production-puppets of marching destruction, like in the Second world War. The portion of us that can explain phenomena like fascism; jealousie; envy; hatred and murder. The portion of us that may submit us to a Lord of Flies. A lord that will be witness—and make use—of our weakness.
Just after the person in the poem has signed away that portion: then it was there … a Fly! As if Miss Dickinson wants to tell us that as soon as our personal death becomes a reality for us, we want to part with that portion and throw it out by projection and lower the blinds, to thus hold back that portion, the fly, forever.
Our soul does not want anything to do with it anymore, and while it prepares for the new journey out, it … gets trouble seeing … and here I come to the last difficulty in the poem.
Why does it say: I could not see to see— ? Why for instance, does not it say: I could not look to see, instead, or: I could not watch to see ? Or maybe even: I could not behold to visit, or: I could not sense to understand. Why does it oppose see to see? This question has marvellously puzzled me for quite some time …”
Anyone here any ideas?