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Friday, December 16, 2011

Analysis of Dickenson's "When I heard a fly buzz

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Analysis of Dickenson’s “I Heard a fly buzz-when I died”


“I Heard a fly buzz-when I died” depicts a 1th century woman “…recalling her own deathbed scene, focusing on the suspenseful interval during which she and loved ones await the arrival of death...” (Arp 4). Death in Emily Dickenson’s time was very much unlike death today. Instead of the typical deathbed scene of today, complete with a relaxed hospital patient soothed by painkillers, “before the age of powerful anodynes death was met in full consciousness…,” (Leone 7). Because of these differences in the past and present day, the reader gets the chance to be exposed to the character’s inner thoughts and feelings during this time. Through her use of theme, symbolism, and poetic devices Emily Dickenson explains her views on death and dying, in the poem “I Heard a fly buzz-when I died.”


First, throughout the poem, the central theme is death. More specifically it details the struggle in belief of an afterlife and the unimportance of material, earthy possessions. First, the narrator’s disillusion with the promise of a Christian afterlife becomes apparent to the reader throughout the poem. “As consciousness fades, the world fades and vice versa; as the world and consciousness ebb out, the promise of Christian immortality (represented by the King) also disappears” (Budick 171). Also illustrated throughout the poem is the idea of the uselessness of material possessions of this earth after death as the narrator describes them in the lines “/…I willed my Keepsakes � Signed away What portion of me be Assignable,” (Dickenson 8-10). The narrator is now aware that these


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possessions serve no purpose after death. Through these central themes Emily Dickenson creates a central theme revolving around death.


Also, symbolism plays a central part in the poem explaining aspects of death and dying through the symbols of silence and the fly. First, reference of silence is used through the lines “/…The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air”(Dickenson -) as a symbol of impending death and the silence after it happened. In contrast, the fly portrays a symbol of life that is blocking death. “We know nothing about the fly’s buzz yet except that its sounds stands out against a background of silence. The room is silent because the persona is nowhere…,” (Weisbuch ). The fly’s buzzing is all that stands in the way between the narrator and her death and separate her from her awaiting heaven. “Even so small a demonstrative, demonstrable creature is sufficient to separate the dying person from “the light,” i.e. to blur the vision, to short-circuit mental concentration, so that spiritual awareness is lost,” (Leone 75). Through these symbols, silence and the fly, Emily Dickenson further elaborates on death.


Lastly, the poetic devices, such as rhyme scheme, dashes and onomatopoeia, used throughout the poem also contribute to the feeling of death and dying. First, the rhyme scheme is very deliberate through the course of the poem. The second and fourth lines are rhymed while the first and third are not. “The approximate rhymes provide a formal unity even as they convey an atmosphere of unease, an uncertainty and fear in the face of imminent death,” (Arp 50). Also, the dashes littered throughout the


passage for emphasis “contribute to the poem’s measured, stately rhythm,” (Arp 50). Onomatopoeia, the use of words that produce sounds, is also employed frequently to add


to the scene. The word buzz is scattered through the poem to illustrate the constant sound of the fly in the room. “This outburst of onomatopoetic effect consummates the aural imagery promised in the opening line,” (Arp 50). In the last line, there is the fly, blocking the narrator from quiet thoughts of an awaiting heaven, so that she “/…could not see to see,” (Dickenson 16). Through the use of poetic devices Emily Dickenson is able to further enhance the meaning and atmosphere in this poem.


To conclude, the poem “I Heard a fly buzz-when I died” is a classic in literature. Through this poem people today are able to experience the death and dying of a woman like it was over 100 years ago. In her writing of this poem Emily Dickenson contributes to this portrayal by her use of death as a theme, symbols of silence and the fly and poetic devices like rhyme, dashes and onomatopoeia.





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