I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
When you read this poem through, did you notice a certain smooth, even feeling to the lines? That’s because this is actually a really regular, rhythmic poem in some ways…but not in every way. We’ll explain.
To start with, all these lines are all written in perfect iambic meter. That means the lines are divided into two syllable chunks, with the emphasis on the second syllable. The length of the sections and the lines is really regular too. There are four sections (stanzas) each with four lines. The first and the third lines in each stanza have eight syllables (the fancy name for that is iambic tetrameter). The second and fourth lines each have six syllables (or, iambic trimeter). Making a poem this regular takes some work, so we know Dickinson went out of her way to give it a smooth, rhythmic feel.
But…(you knew that was coming didn’t you?) Emily Dickinson wasn’t really a "normal" poet. So even though she sets up this nice, happy iambic meter, she finds all kinds of ways to break it up, too.
For one thing, this poem doesn’t really rhyme. Well, OK, there’s one big exception, lines 14 and 16 end the poem with a rhyme ("me" and "see"). There are a few other spots where a sound is repeated at the end of a line, but these are basically the exceptions that prove the rule. We are a long way from a nice, normal, nursery-rhyme sound.
Then there are those dashes. Do you feel the way they break up the poem? Notice the way they force you to pause again and again, even in weird places. That’s an important choice on Dickinson’s part, and it really defines her style. From the very first line, the dashes give the poem a cut-up, stuttery feel. When her poems were published after her death, this bugged some of her editors a lot – so much so that they got rid of them entirely. We’re big fans of the dashes, however. We think they are really important part of her vision and her style. Plus, they make a really cool counterbalance to the even rhythm of her lines.