Study Guide

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – Family

By Emily Dickinson


The theme of Family is interesting because we don’t hear about it directly, but we know it has to be there. Family is (hopefully) a big part of a deathbed scene in "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died." When Dickinson talks about the "Eyes" around the dying speaker, we have to imagine that these are her loved ones. Also, she gives away her "Keepsakes." That ritual of leaving a will is all about family and friends. We can’t assume too much about who these people are, but the idea of the bonds of family is a big part of what holds this poem together.

Questions About Family

  1. Do you get a sense of how the speaker of the poem feels about her family? Does she seem to love them, or maybe to feel distant from them? Is that even the point?
  2. Does it matter who is watching the speaker in this poem? What might tip us off that these are her loved-ones?
  3. Have you and your family been through a death? Does anything about this poem and its descriptions remind you of that?

Chew on This

Dickinson refers to the people in the room as "The Eyes around," rather than naming and describing them. By doing this, she emphasizes the distance between the speaker and her family and friends.