Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She lived a reclusive life on her family homestead. She secretly wrote many of her poems and letters. It was after her death that her works were found by her sister and were published.
Emily Dickinson did not give titles to most of her poems. They are usually labeled by their first lines, and her modern editor, Thomas H. Johnson, has numbered them according to his conclusions about their order of composition.
Emily Dickinson poetry certainly explores death or foreboding. In one of her famous poems #465, I Heard a Fly Buzz, the first stanza introduces us with the ambiance and sets us for the ensuing events. The poem begins with the appearance of a fly. It interrupts the stillness and quiet of the room. The quiet in the room is not lasting. The peace present there is something before a big event. In the poet’s words, she describes the stillness and peace in this way: The stillness in the room, like the stillness in the air, Between the heaves of the storm.
The next stanza reveals the presence of many in the room. We know they have come to await the death of the speaker. The room is so quiet that the speaker can hear a buzz. The near and dear ones present their finished crying. In the line, The Eyes around, –had wrung them dry. They are awaiting the last moments of the speaker.
The line describes the scene: And Breaths were gathering firm, For that last onset. The speaker knows that the presumed that the speaker will see a heavenly presence, but there is a rhetorical question, who will lead her to the afterlife? According to the Victorian tradition of death bed scenes of the 19th century, the speaker has drawn her will and given away all her worldly possessions. The sudden appearance of a fly interrupts the thoughts of the speaker. It distracts the speaker.
Finally, the speaker has become unconscious. The poem describes the scene in this way: And then the windows failed, and then, I could not see to see. The poem ends with this line. The readers can imagine that the speaker has breathed last.
The poem follows the pattern of trimester and tetrameter iambic lines. There are four stressed syllables in the first and third lines of each stanza and three stressed syllables in the second and fourth line of each stanza. Long dashes cause interruptions or pauses. This use of long dashes is quite intentional. The rhyme scheme is ABCB. This unique technique in the poem is quite intentional to build tension. When the poem is complete, after the death of the speaker, a sense of true completion is there.
The poem, like many other poems written by Dickinson, presents the speaker communicating to the reader from beyond the grave. The poem describes the scene just before the death of the speaker and the final line declares that the speaker has breathed last. The poem describes how the speaker followed the Victorian tradition of the last moments and signed the will, giving away the all the material possessions of the speaker. We can easily feel that the speaker is not present in the human form in the lines of the poem. The speaker describes the scene from the vantage point where nothing is material.
Like many of the Emily Dickinson poems, death is the most important element of the poem. In the opening stanza, the speaker describes the room using metaphors. There is imagined stillness prevailing the room. In the Room has been repeated. The phrase is there in the first and second stanzas. Dickinson seems to emphasize the point that the room is the setting of the poem.
The sudden appearance of the fly becomes so significant because the people present there are quiet, and their eyes have also dried. The character of the fly best represents the poem’s climatic moment. This small creature is present between life and the afterlife. It gives a sense of spirituality. It is so insignificant but so highly significant, for it seems to be replacing spirituality and the afterlife. On the other hand, we can interpret the presence of the fly in this way: that small creature is alive and buzzing around. It seems to be giving a sense of transitory value of human life. The speaker is about to die but that fly is buzzing around. It might also be seen as the helplessness of the living beings in the moments when death is almost imminent.
It is generally presumed that everything ends with the end of this life, but the writing of the poem from beyond the grave seems to be hopefully suggesting that there is afterlife and not all gets lost.
This is one of the most powerful and thought provoking poems composed by Emily Dickinson.
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