I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
by Emily Dickinson
Where It All Goes Down
The Room Where the Speaker Dies
So, Ms. Dickinson isn’t a lot of help with the setting. She tells us that we’re in a room, but not a lot else. OK, that’s not really fair. We know that we are looking at a deathbed, and that brings up all kinds of images. We can imagine that the room is warm, maybe a little stuffy, with some medicine on the shelf, maybe a glass of water for the patient, the smell of disinfectant. There are people around, who have been crying, but have recently stopped.
Dickinson knew that as soon as she mentioned this room and talked about death, our minds would start spinning. She counts on us to fill in all the details from our stereotypical ideas of a deathbed scene. It’s a little like connect-the-dots. She gives us just a few words: "eyes," "room," etc., and we do the rest. The more we do to build this up in our minds, the more surprising and weird it is when the fly shows up and changes everything. Because all of a sudden we get pulled out of that setting, and we have to deal with that fly close-up, almost as if we were under a microscope. Finally, we leave the deathbed setting all together. The "Windows" close, and we are left alone with the speaker, in a dark and faraway place. She never tells us where she is, but there isn’t much to cheer us up.