I Heard A Fly Buzz-When I Died : Summary and Analysis

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I Heard A Fly Buzz-When I Died

I heard a Fly buzz-when I died-
The Stillness of 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 the 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.

The very famous poem 'I Heard a Fly buzz-when I died' is often considered as representative of Emily Dickinson's style and attitudes. The first line is as arresting as opening as one could imagine. By describing the moment of death, the speaker lets us know that she has already died.
I Heard a Fly buzz-when I died

Introduction:

      The very famous poem 'I Heard a Fly buzz-when I died' is often considered as representative of Emily Dickinson's style and attitudes. The first line is as arresting as opening as one could imagine. By describing the moment of death, the speaker lets us know that she has already died. It is Dickinson's greatest description of the moment of death and is universally considered one of her masterpieces. Through an imaginative retrospect of her own death, Dickinson renders with convincing and insightful detail the last sensation of a dying person.

Summary:

      In the first stanza, the death-room's stillness contrasts with a fly's buzz that the dying person hears, and the tension pervading the scene is compared to the pauses within a storm. The somber and hushed atmosphere of the opening lines are jarred by the ludicrous presence of a buzzing fly. All in the room is silent still, yet filled with the anxious expectation of those caught in the eye of a storm.

      Stanza II introduces the anxiety-ridden spectators, whose eyes and gathered breath stress their concentration in the face of a sacred event. The dying moment suggests the departure of soul for its heavenly abode. It marks the arrival of the King' who symbolizes death. The sorrowing observers stand in breathless anticipation of that final moment when death will appear to escort the deceased with all pomp and ceremony to her heavenly reward.

      Stanza III shifts our attention to the speaker, who has been observing her own death with all the strength of her remaining senses. Her final willing of her keepsakes is a psychological event, not something she speaks. She finally detaches herself from the surroundings. She has willed her property, made a provision for disposing of her body, and said farewell to her friends. She seems to have lost all lost interest in material possessions. She leaves behind whatever of herself people can treasure and remember. She is all set to face death. She waits anxiously to commence her spiritual journey. But the buzzing of fly at the last moment intervenes to disrupt the process of death. For the dying person the unexpected presence of the fly erases all other concerns, social and religious alike. Her final minutes are used signing her collectables and thinking about the fly.

      Stanza IV shows the uncertainty of the fly's darting motions that parallels her state of mind. The fly intervenes between the light and the departing person, not just preventing physical sight but also obscuring the illumination of immortality as well. Flying between the light and her, it looks to both signal the moment of death and represents the world that she is giving up. Thus the poem comes to end without the expected vision of immortality.

      The last two lines show the speaker's confusion of her eyes and the windows of her room. She is both distancing fear and revealing her detachment from life. However, the living reaffirm their loyalty to the social order. They turn their attention away from the dying person and what is represented by death and the affirmation of their faith; they prepare themselves to witness God's presence in the room, his carrying away of the dying person's soul.

Interpretation and Critical Analysis:

Distance Between Dying and the Living:

      Dickinson presents a speaker beyond the limit of the symbolic order. She has 'Signed away / What portion of me be / Assignable' and hence forth to nature, a decomposing body subject only to the fly. The poem highlights the radical distance between the dying, who awaits the dissolution of the human into the undifferentiated matter of the corpse, and the living, who remain entirely bound up in the trappings of the social order, property, keepsakes, and the law of the father- 'the King' who is to be witnessed-in the Room.

Symbolism:

      The poem is full of suggestive images. The 'fly' is a lowly earthly creature representative of physical decay. The 'Fly' remains an appropriately complex and suggestive presence. It also represents the trivial. The 'King' is presumably Christ who has come to welcome His saints at the mourning sight.

Significance of Sign and Assignable:

      The use of sign and assignable is very suggestive. In death, the victim gives up the power to sign, to signify, to mark with characters, and to assign, to transfer or designate by writing. The corpse is beyond the social order. The dead body is not governed by the set rules and regulations of the social order.

Note of Despair:

      A note of despair is present in the closing phase of the poem. The fly is a grim omen of the decay that awaits in the grave; "And then the Windows failed - and then / I could not see to see-

Treatment of Death:

      The traditional view of death as a tyrant is rejected in this poem. The supremacy of death and God is openly challenged in it. The so-called tear of death is also ridiculed in this poem. The poem combines the description of death from outside and inside. In the first three stanzas of the poem, it is the background which is stressed. The speaker notices the tense silence in the room resembling the calm before the onset of storm. People gathered round the bedside have dried tears, and breathing hard, they watched for the moment when Death, 'the King' would arrive. The poetess ridicules the traditional view of death as a peaceful means of gaining immortality. She is disappointed to observe how an insignificant fly disrupts the onset of death. So the anticipated dream of realizing immortality is all shattered in the end.

Role of the Speaker:

      The speaker anxiously anticipated dying as a prelude to new vision and strained toward promised revelation. She looks back upon the transitional adventure. She looks backward in time rather forward into immortality.

Explanation with Reference to Context:


I heard a fly buzz-when I died-
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air
Between the Heaven of Storm.

      In the opening stanza of the poem, the speaker imaginatively presents her own death. By describing her own death, the speaker informs us that she has already died. At the point of death, she hears the buzzing of a fly in the death-like atmosphere of the room. The room in which her dead body is placed is perfectly calm because the mourners are all plunged in grief. There is a pin-drop silence prevailing not only inside but also outside the room. The poet compares this silence with the pauses within a storm. He mocks at death which is disturbed by the mere buzzing of a petty fly. The somber and hushed atmosphere of the opening lines are jarred by the ludicrous presence of a buzzing fly. All the room is silent and still, yet filled with the anxious expectation of those trapped in the 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-

      The speaker anticipates her own death just before its actual arrival. She is suddenly awakened by the buzzing of a fly from her death-bed. She sees before hand the scene of mourning which is going to take place after her death. She finds the scene very calm and the mourners anxiety-ridden.

      The speaker finds the mourners in a mood of sorrows and deep grief. The anxiety-ridden and dried-eyed spectators are looking around in a state of shock. They have come to see the last dying moments of the departing soul for its heavenly Journey. The final struggle of body and soul is suggestively conveyed as an 'outset'. The sorrowing spectators stand in breathless expectation of that final moment when death will appear to accompany the deceased with all pomp and ceremony to her heavenly reward. All are anxiously waiting for the arrival of the King who stands for death in human life.

I willed my Keepsakes-signed-Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable-and then it was
There interposed a Fly.

      The death of the speaker plunges the spectators in a mood of despair. They have gathered to pay their last homage to the departed soul. They are looking sad and anxiety-ridden and eagerly waiting for the arrival of the King i.e. Death. They have come to witness the spiritual journey of the soul to its heaven abode.

      The dying person is now completing her last earthly formalities. She finally detaches herself from the surroundings and is all set for her ensuing spiritual journey. She has willed her property, made a provision for disposing of her body, and paid farewell to friends. She has dually signed the document to prove its authenticity. She has given up all her material possession before her final departure from life. But ironically the buzzing fly at the last moment intervenes to disrupt the process of death. Her final minutes are devoted to the signing of her collections and thinking about the fly which has abruptly disturbed the her soul's departure from the scene of life.

With Blue - uncertain stumbling Buzz-
Between the light-and me-
And then the Windows failed-and then
I could not see to see-

      The speaker after having signed her will is ready to leave this world. She is bidding farewell to her friends before leaving for heavenly abode. This marks the onset of the spiritual journey which will possibly identify her with God. But the buzzing of the fly delays the course of her new journey.

      The concluding stanza shows the uncertainty of the fly's motions that parallels ner state of mind. The light intervenes between the light and the departing person and prevents the dying person having the glimpse of immortality. This shows the end of the earthly life with all its material temptations.The sight of immortality proves to be illusory in the end. The last two lines the speaker's confusion of her eyes and the windows of her room. She is both distancing her fear and showing her detachment from life. The speaker now fails to see anything at the time of her departure from life.

Annotations:

'I' - stands for person who is witnessing the final scene ofhis death.
'Fly' - refers to Death or Christ. The mourning scene is marked by the arrival of death / King.
'Buzz' - it is a typical sound of the buzzing fly. It is the only sound disturbing the peaceful atmosphere of the room where the mourners have collected to moun the death of the victim of death. Fly is also related to the daily domestic activities.
'Stillness in the room' - shows the calm prevailing in the room where the dead body is kept. It further shows that the mourners are plunged in grief.
'Between the heaves of Storm' - The stillness in the room is compared to the calm that follows the violent wind.
'The eyes around' - focuses on the mourners collected around the coffin observing the dying person.
'Wrung them dry' - refers to the dry-eyed mourners who are deeply grief ridden.
'The last Onset' - the final arrival of death for carrying the soul to heaven.
'Me' - stands for the dying person.
'I could not see to see' - The dying person is denied the vision of immortality and the peace of life after death. The falling of the windows shatters her dream of entering heaven and the end of her struggle to give up the earthly life.

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