I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
by Emily Dickinson
OK, let’s get one thing out of the way. If you haven’t seen The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, you should probably go and rent it, because it’s awesome. We won’t give too much away, but one little fly messes everything up in that movie, and that’s pretty much what happens here. This starts out as a normal (if sad) death scene, but then a fly gets in the way, and changes everything.
- Line 1: The first image we get in this poem is of that pesky fly. But we don’t see it yet. We just hear it "buzz." That’s a great word to put in here, because it describes the noise a fly makes, but the sound of the word also imitates the sound of the fly. That’s what English teachers call onomatopoeia. That buzzing sound cuts across the quiet in the room. We get a whole landscape of sounds before we even see the fly or what’s in the room.
- Lines 12: The fly actually goes away for most of the poem, but then it comes back in a big way here. Check out how she uses the word "interposed" here. The fly interrupts the poem, disrupts this scene, and generally gets in the way. The image of that little buzzing creature cuts across the peaceful deathbed scene. It’s dirty and uncontrollable and noisy, while everything else is quiet and calm and carefully prepared.
- Line 13: Here she gives us a little more detail about the fly. She describes his buzz as "Blue – uncertain – stumbling." This gives us an even stronger image of the colors and the movements that go along with that annoying little sound. Dickinson doesn’t have to say, "there was this little blue fly that kept landing everywhere." She just drops a few words into these lines, and we begin to build a picture of this fly in our minds.
- Line 14: Now the fly gets between the speaker and "the light." Literally, this might mean that the fly’s shadow blocks out the light of the room. But we think this line has to bring up the idea of the fly as a symbol. Even though it’s not really their fault, flies are definitely associated with death, decomposition, maggots, and all that fun stuff. So this fly could be a symbol of death, and then his getting in the way of the light could start to seem kind of evil. He’s interrupting the speaker’s progress toward the comforting beauty of the light. If you want to go just a little deeper, remember that a traditional name for the devil is "lord of the flies." In this poem, then, the appearance of the fly could be balancing out the arrival of the "King" everyone is waiting for. You can get as spiritual as you want about this, but it’s good to remember that traditionally our associations with flies have been pretty negative.