Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems

Emily Dickinson’s King Fly College

In her poem “I Heard a Fly Buzz -- When I Died --”, Emily Dickinson retells the story of the moments leading up to, and the moment of, her own imagined death as an unsuspecting fly interrupts her anticipated escort to the afterlife by God himself. The speaker’s (presumably Dickinson herself, though that is debated) recanting of her last living moments draw great attention to the clumsily buzzing fly, despite the implication that the speaker is lying on her deathbed surrounded by grieving family and friends awaiting her final breath and subsequent transition into immortality - a time when you might expect a dying woman to have more “metaphysical” commentary to be made - especially during the surge in popularity of Romanticism. This blunt objectivity regarding her own death, along with the fly’s association with the less pleasant aspects of death and dying, give the prominence of the buzzing, stumbling fly in Dickinson’s poem an interesting meaning with regard to the meaning (or lack thereof) of life, the process of dying, and what may or may not await afterward.

Probably the most glaring use of the fly in “I Heard a Fly Buzz -- When I Died --” is as a symbol of death. It is not a coincidence that flies are associated with death...

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