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 —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem I heard a Fly buzz — when I died

41 Comments

  1. Daniel says:

    The fly represents the presence of death. THe buzz is the constant annoyance of how death is near by. She some how knows she will die. The eyes wrung dry means that everyone has mourned more than enough tears for her. and she is waiting for the “king” god to appear when she dies. You can see this because the Last- last breath, onset- beginning- beginning of new life with god. she has willed her keepsakes- basically signed everything of value to people around her. The fly suddenly appears- death is closer, it is between the light and me- the fly is waiting for her to follow the “light” and the windows failed- the storm had its last heave and her vision was depleted for she died then and there.

  2. Jill says:

    I agree that she is definately literally talking about death in this poem, and she says somethign about giving away what she owned, and i think she was kind of talking about her will, and giving the things she owned away before she died. As for the fly, i believe that is what separated her from heaven..and the room was quiet except for the buzzing, because the fly was the thing that was the doubt on whether she could be pure enough to go to heaven or not. I don’t know is this is actually what she means, but it is just a thought.

  3. Jay says:

    Conal, if you are going to copy and paste please give credit to the author.

  4. Mary Gunderson says:

    I heard a fly the buzz is not really questioning what happens at death nor does it question whether there is eternal life after death. The facts of nature show that the body does decay after death; therefore, Ms. Dickinson uses the fly. The spiritual being no longer needs the human body so there is no conflict. I think this is simply a reflection on the death process and customs associated with death of the physical body.

  5. red hairy says:

    I think the verse about the “waiting for the king” is rather meant to be ironic because all the people around her want to witness God in the moment of death, but all what they see and hear is a fly.
    It is also rather sad because the relatioves have not come to support the dying person but for egoistic reasons to make a spiritual experience.
    Thus, I think, Dickinson deconstructs the whole image of relatives waiting at a death bed. They are not there because of their love to the dying person but to fulfil their own desires. however, this is denied to them. Instead of God they see an ordinary fly.

  6. gloria says:

    Wow! This is a really deep conversation, but I don’t think this poem is really about literal death. I felt that the poem was really a sustained metaphor between marriage and death. The fly is a warning of what is to come. The King is going to be her husband. The giving away of keepsakes is a dowery or marriage presents.

  7. Derek says:

    There is metaphor and then there is murkiness. If 465 weren’t Emily Dickinson’s it would be invisible.

  8. Alan Crawford says:

    it really does

  9. Rachel says:

    I like this poem very much !It conveys the author’s idea clearly in a very few sentences___that is her doubt wether there exists a God !Wonderfull !She is much ahead of her time !

  10. Suzann says:

    The current comments are interesting. I read this poem in an entirely different light.
    To me it is beautiful and pensive. I have often heard that the hearing is the last to “go” when we fall asleep.
    Hearing a fly buzz was the last sound she heard. What could be the meaning of this small insignifiacnt symbol of life, that it was the last thing she recognized? And life goes on…and maybe it is the little things we do in life that really are most important afterall.

  11. nikki says:

    Okay, in regard to the fly being the devil, i agree. actually the translation of the word “Beelzebub” is lord of the flies, however, beelzebub in the bible is the devil. Flies are commonly used as evil beings in some literature. also, i thougt maybe what she is trying to say is even the smallest sin can send you to hell. The fly is small and you wouldn’t think a fly could stop you from going to heaven just as you wouldn’t think a small sin would. Just a Thought!!

  12. RT says:

    When it says “there interposed a Fly” and one line down it says “Between the light –and me– An then the Window failed–and then I could not see to see–” It made me think that the fly held her back from going to heaven “between the light”. So the king(Christ/God) did come to take her away to heaven I think. So the fly was maybe the devil in my opinion and did not let her go, but instead brought her down into darnkess “I could not see to see” I could be very wrong but that kidna cought my eye.

  13. Danielle says:

    beautifully ironic and dark

  14. Rosalia says:

    I think that she imagines as a fly a the re-incarnation. in the quotes “The eyes around – had wrung them dry-” “For that last Onset – when the King” may the people are in the room waiting for the king (death).

  15. Barnaby Lancaster says:

    Emily Dickenson was tripping on acid

  16. Leungo88 says:

    This was a rather grim poem. I feel the message in this poem is that there is no “afterlife” after death. The “King” never comes instead the dead person sees the fly which becomes a symbol for decay. Perhaps that is all there is to our deaths, we will all rot away into nothingless by the fly…

  17. Dametria Anderson LSH says:

    I thought this was a very touching poem it screams it screams it screams be thankful that you lived to se another day charish your family members while you got them because once death comed aint no stoppin um. they are just going to take you away i often wonder what are the last things i would hear when i am on my death bed.Will it be in my sleep or the pain will i fill?I often wonder. I lOVE POETRY

  18. Shalitha says:

    it was sad, it was a sad poem. it made me cry it was a sad poem

  19. Sydeny Hamlet says:

    your poem is very intersting to read how most people feel when they are alone and think there isnt anything better to do in life but stay there and die

  20. conal says:

    The death in this poem is painless, yet the vision of death it presents is horrifying, even gruesome. The appearance of an ordinary, insignificant fly at the climax of a life at first merely startles and disconcerts us. But by the end of the poem, the fly has acquired dreadful meaning. Clearly, the central image is the fly. It makes a literal appearance in three of the four stanzas and is what the speaker experiences in dying.

    The room is silent except for the fly. The poem describes a lull between “heaves,” suggesting that upheaval preceded this moment and that more upheaval will follow. It is a moment of expectation, of waiting. There is “stillness in the air,” and the watchers of her dying are silent. And still the only sound is the fly’s buzzing. The speaker’s tone is calm, even flat; her narrative is concise and factual.

    The people witnessing the death have exhausted their grief (their eyes are “wrung dry” of tears). Her breathing indicates that “that last onset” or death is about to happen. “Last onset” is an oxymoron; “onset” means a beginning, and “last” means an end. For Christians, death is the beginning of eternal life. Death brings revelation, when God or the nature of eternity becomes known. This is why “the king / Be witnessed in his power.” The king may be God, Christ, or death; think about which reading you prefer and why.

    She is ready to die; she has cut her attachments to this world (given away “my keepsakes”) and anticipates death and its revelation. Are the witnesses also waiting for a revelation through her death? Ironically the fly, not the hoped-for king of might and glory, appears. The crux of this poem lies in the way you interpret this discrepancy. Since the king is expected and the fly appears, are they to be associated? If the fly indicates the meaning of death, what is that meaning?

    Does the fly suggest any realities of death–smell, decay? Flies do, after all, feed on carrion (dead flesh). Does this association suggest anything about the dying woman’s vision of death? or the observers’ vision? Is she– are they–seeing the future as physical decay only? Does the fly’s fulfilling their expectations indicate that death has no spiritual significance, that there is no eternity or immortality for us? There are other interpretations of the fly. The fly may stand for Beelzebub, who is also known as lord of the flies. Sometimes Beelzebub is used as another name for Satan; sometimes it refers to any devil; in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Beelzebub is Satan’s chief lieutenant in hell. If the King whom the observers and/or the speaker is waiting for turns out to be the devil, is there still irony? How is the meaning of the poem affected by this reading? For example, does the poem become more cheerful? What would Dickinson be saying about eternity? Can the poem support more than one of these interpretations of the fly?

    What is the effect of the fly being the only sign of life (“buzz”) at the end of the poem? To extend this question, is it significant that the only sign of vitality and aliveness in the entire poem is the fly?

    For literal-minded readers, a dead narrator speaking about her death presents a problem, perhaps an unsurmountable problem. How can a dead woman be speaking? Less literal readers may face appalling possibilities. If the dead woman can still speak, does this mean that dying is perpetual and continuous? Or is immortality a state of consciousness in an eternal present?

    “I heard a fly buzz when I died” is one of Emily Dickinson’s finest opening lines. It effectively juxtaposes the trivial and the momentous; the movement from one to the other is so swift and so understated and the meaning so significant that the effect is like a blow to an emotional solar plexus (solar plexus: pit of the stomach). Some readers find it misleading because the first clause (“I heard a fly buzz”) does not prepare for the second clause (“when I died”). Is the dying woman or are the witnesses misled about death? does the line parallel their experience and so the meaning of the poem?

Leave a Reply to Rosalia Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Emily Dickinson better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.