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. mrttreed says:

    I believe the windows failing is her eyes going shut or her soul leaving the body and loosing use of the eyes…

  2. Amira says:

    I think that the poem is adescrition of the crucial moment between death and life .THus,the fly is asymbol of the flying soul after death as the cropse is decmbosed and the is purifid.

  3. Chris says:

    As the person passes on into the afterlife, surrounded by family members anxiously awaiting the answer of what is on the other side, the dying person is distraced by a fly and passes on without providing any details to the bedside observers.

  4. Sirag says:

    It is true that death and the issue of boundaries are intensified in this poems. And it is true that the difficult part of this poem lies in the way we interpret the appearance of the “Fly” instead of the “King”. But there’s a more important point in my opinion.

    As a poet whose desire was to keep her fascicles for her future readers and she wanted to be acknowledged by us, as she expresses in many of her poems like in F24-J442, she describes herself undergoing the unavoidable experience of death. She is prepared and accepting; she has cut her attachments to the world:

    I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
    What portion of me be
    Assignable –

    I think that we could find some clues for interpreting these words of declaration. She wanted to leave her poetry for her future readers, that was her only wish and the only thing she had, to transcend through her art, to transcend by the power of her word, and whatever the circumstances of the death are, she will remain eternal.

    Undoubtedly, she fulfilled her role as a woman poet who was concerned with creating an immortal poetry based in her own individuality.

  5. highschoolstudent says:

    Have any of you thought that maybe the fly might mean the devil? In many stories, the devil is called the king of flies. Maybe the fly is representing the devil who stops this dying person from entering the light, or heaven (paradise, whatever you’d like to call it). And this person might just be going through a calm death from old age, not necessarily dying from battle. Also, Christopher, you’re a jerk, for starters. People who post on here not only have lives, but they seem to use their brains more than you. Just because you deem this site and posting on this site “lame” doesn’t mean the people on here are unattractive or have no lives. If you don’t like, then shut up and leave.

  6. Emily says:

    Are you guys seriously arguing over the purpose of this poem?

    (Normally I would not comment over something so useless but I am seriously enraged by this)

    There is nothing to this poem than what it says. You are all over analyzing a simple poem. Emily Dickinson does not need a reason for writing this poem more than to express her own emotions. It does not need to be based off of something like the civil war or “The battle between good and evil”. This is a poem about someone seeing a fly when they die and how though that fly is normally insignificant to someone who lives, since it is the last thing that dieing person is to see, it is the most important thing to them.

    Also, Ryan from Zimbabwe, sorry to sound very criticizing of your opinion, but you obviously do not read into references in poems enough. It’s not about evil and good. It is about life and death. That is the reason for the king (god or death… varies from person to person) being in the room.

  7. Walt says:

    So, I’m guessing that the persona isn’t clear in this poem whether it is a man or a woman..? I’m wondering if the person is dying in a camp during the Civil War. I do agree with the thought that the speaker is experiencing the most basic of his or her senses when hearing the buzzing of the fly. I do believe that this is how Emily Dickinson intended for this part of the poem to be interpreted. The buzzing is clearly the climax of the poem, but it is still hard for me to put into words why the buzzing is so significant. I know that Emily Dickinson had described the buzzing as stammering which I interpret as drunken and careless. I think it is possible that the dying person finds comfort in the fly and its presence makes the transition easier for him or her to die.

  8. Laura says:

    One of the main final messages of this poem is the impending pressure of death, whether it be a literal or symbolic death. Death is foremost a period of transition in which the soul transcends from a living plane and becomes part of something otherworldly and enigmatic. In the wake of the Civil War, the effects of death were an ever-present reality for families across the nation. In this poem, Dickinson asks a question that especially haunted Americans of her time: what do the dying experience as they approach death? The initial experience of the narrator is one of complete stillness and silence; the stillness is like “between the Heaves of Storm” which eludes the idea that the process of dying is like transitioning between the known Storm of life into the unknown Storm of the afterlife. The “Eyes” surrounding the narrator are dry from having stopped mourning and the “Breaths” are gathered as they wait for the narrator to finally succumb to death. Despite the quietness of the scene, the narrator suggests that the room lacks tranquility; rather, the narrator contemplates that every aspect of his life that could be signed away has been relinquished to the living (“Signed away/ What portion of me be/ Assignable –“) so that all that is left is the body that he does not even own enough to control its vitality. The narrator’s death is also a period of anxious waiting for “when the King/ Be witnessed – in the Room –“. It is common to believe that some other-worldly figure must be present to accompany the dying into the afterlife, and as the narrator waits he hears the buzzing of the fly pervade the room.

    Despite everyone’s anticipation of the “King”, the buzzing of the fly is all the narrator senses. However, it appears that the narrator is neither disappointed nor relieved to hear the fly rather, he is fascinated by the fly’s ability to keep the him gripped to life. The poem says that the fly’s “stumbling Buzz” floated “Between the light – and me –“. It is as though throughout the poem the narrator has relinquished his ties to his loved ones, his possessions, and finally his body until everything that exists in his mind and his senses are condensed and represented in the buzzing of the fly. Here, Dickinson implies that the narrator’s identity lies outside of what roles he might have filled or what possessions he owned because when, in the last moments of his life, he is stripped down to the most basic elements of his existence, all he knows is the buzzing of the fly.

    The final lines of the poem say, “And then the Windows failed – and then/ I could not see to see”. The failing windows imply that the light that the narrator was searching for behind the noise of the fly did not meet him in the end. While the final image comes off as rather depressing, it is important to note that the narrator’s sense of hearing was always the key to his identity in death. The sense of hearing is a recurring element in Dickinson’s work and it often represents a more acute level of understanding for the listener. Rather than dying and transcending into darkness, the narrator comes to be defined by the most basic of his senses and transitions into death with a better understanding of his own identity.

  9. Felicia says:

    Emily created this poem to express the way she was feeling about her life at the time. She wrote her poems based on her feelings of her life, herself, and the very fewpeople involved in her life at that certain time.

  10. cristine says:

    Emily Dickinson, was sorounded in her life by the deaths of others, this are the kind of situations that make people question the existance of God and Heaven.She says what portion of me be. To me she is questioning, what will happen to me when I die. Because I could not see the see. I could not see or believe in god.

  11. ea says:

    I think there are great big huge hints, like the fact that she never married or had children. That aside, I feel this is very much about death and about Emily’s existentialism – her doubts about a great beyond. To me this reads like an old b&w film that is cutting out at the end, where you see that hair (or that fly) on the lens of the projector just before the light snaps out. Emily is imagining that there is nothing after that. The fascination in that last moment is that the fly sensed the inevitable, and was there for it, along with the narrator.

    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 —

  12. Az says:

    ‘Died’ is not an actual reference to death. The majority of her poems are based on love, and there are slight hints that she was not loved in return. Death could be an exaggurated description of how she felt at this time.

  13. Desiree says:

    when the narrator wills away her keepsakes she gave her soul to God, her possessions to her loved ones and her body to be devoured by the fly. The reason she could not “see to see” is because She was no longer able to stare down at her dead body because she was going on to heaven and it would be foul to watch herself be eaten by a hungrey stumbling fly!

  14. ramy says:

    i think that dickinson choosed the word FLY as the only aspect of life , because when someone die there is a worms in his body this worms eat his body then it change to another thing which is the FLY ( the PLUE FLY ) which existed in graves .
    FLY is areference to death and life at the same time , it is a fly moving and flying it is indication to life . It is a mark for death as it only found near dead bodyes and graves. THAT IS WAT I THINK ABOUT….FLY…. , RAMY ,EGYPT

  15. Andrzej Samulak says:

    Emily Dickinson’s viewpoint of the problem of death and dying is quite unusual. The juxtaposition of the two elements – the time of dying and buzzing of the fly – so trivial in the situation of death – create the effect of grotesque. Buzzing symbolises the whole world that continues to exist, no matter what happens to the individual.

  16. Michael Brady says:

    I find this poem stunningly immediate. It speaks in the first person, but is clearly a curious, careful investigation by an onlooker, watching and meditating on the process of dying and in many ways the meaning of life.

    There is an eye of the storm sort of srillness in the room, and at the same time, the stillness between the heaves of storm echoes the quietness, the “is she dead yet” moments between the last gasps of breath.

    All in the room have cried as much as they can. Their breaths are bated, (gathered firm), and they are expecting the King. The King, maybe Christ, maybe death, maybe God….I imagine fromwhat I have gleaned of Emily Dickinson that the King is some combination of Death and Immortality…a form of wonder and awe, with no particular answer intended.

    The dying person has willed away keepsakes and signed away what portion of me be assignable. I love the understatement in that. Just what portion of me is assignable. The keepsakes I guess…what else can she own. I feel there is a joke there, one that hinges on the majesty of the moment of the death and loss of the body, and the understanding that said body is not even assignable by its owner.

    Dickinson is not glorifying death. In fact, at the moment when that King might be witnessed in the room, in there comes a Fly. (The real King, I believe) Not the carrion sucking maggot that one might imagine, (at least not that I believe), but a Fly. Remember her poem from the Fly to the Bee, the fly expecting him (the bee) soon since summer’s on the way? This Fly is a wonderful positive thing. The dying person sees a fly, with blue, uncertain stumbling… And then her sight fails, but in the room there is life. I could draw so many conclusions, but all I want to say is that I think this is a poem of huge intellectual grasp, and marvellous emotional peace. Emily Dickinson leads me always as far as I can go, and I know, when I can go farther, she will be there to meet me.

  17. Amanda says:

    There have been several interpretations presented so far throughout these comments, and I don’t have anything original, unfortunately. I think it’s clear that the person telling the story of her death has known for some time that she will be dying. “I willed my keepsakes, signed away / What portion of me I / Could make assignable” The rest of it is up to the interpretation of the reader. I interpreted the stillness she talks about in the second line as the precise moment she stopped living. At this moment, she is (ideally) supposed to cross over to eternal life with God in heaven. She sees the light, but then she sees this fly was suddenly “interposed” between “the light and [her].” As a few people have already commented, Beelzebub is known as the lord of the flies and bible references associate him with the devil. I interpreted the appearance of the fly as her not being pure enough to make it to heaven. Instead, the fly (a symbol for the devil) found her on her deathbed and took her soul with him into the darkness (“and then / I could not see”). It seems that whatever sin she had committed that condemned her to hell was relatively insignificant because she was able to see the light before she sunk into darkness. I think God was willing to forgiver her and receive her in heaven, but since she was a sinner and technically belonged to the devil, he greedily snatched her soul before she was able to enter heaven. I’m not positive on this, but I think Emily Dickinson was not really committed to a religion and was very curious about the possibility of heaven and hell, and I think she expressed this in her work. Another poem of similar content is “Because I Could not Stop for Death.” It, too, is about dying and the afterlife.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    This poem was around the time when it was common to believe in seeing visions of God or Christ when at death. but instead of seeing God, the speaker only sees a fly, which is a household pest and therefore is negative. so maybe this poem could also be about expectations?

  19. SWH says:

    I don’t see how this poem shows that she challenges the idea of the existence of God, Rachel.

    I appreciate how Dickinson used the 1st person narration to bring the reader the feel of the poem, as if the reader him/herself is dying.

    Whether it is literal or not, to me, doesn’t matter, the point is to enjoy it, since everyone’s view of art might be slightly different, there is no correct way of interpreting any poem.

    As to how Dickinson would have interpreted the poem…only she herself knows!

  20. Dan says:

    I think Mary Gunderson said it BEST! I love it – I’ve always just had the simplified view of the fly interfering with the dying “Emily” not being able to see the “King” but her statement really opens my eyes. Thank you, Mary!

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