Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems

Pondering Mortality: A Close Reading of Emily Dickinson College

Emily Dickinson’s poems about death offer a stark contrast to the sentimental themes and imagery one would usually expect. Rather than the religious symbols and flowery language that we as readers have grown accustomed to, Dickinson approaches the idea of death with what appears to be a sense of morbid curiosity, candor, and even a little bit of humor. Though many fear death and avoid the thoughts of their own mortality, it appears that Emily Dickinson spent a good part of her life thinking about the day her life would end, and even eagerly awaiting her chance to embrace death.

In Dickinson’s poem 591 or “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –”, the speaker describes the moment of their death, stressing the stillness of the air around their deathbed which is cut by the distinct sound of a fly buzzing through the room. The speaker then jumps away from the image of the fly and returns to describing the room where they are dying, and of the people around them who are preparing for their final moments. The speaker also highlights their own preparedness for the impending death by discussion the finalization of their will. Again, the fly returns, disrupting the solemn atmosphere that this poem takes place in right as the speaker dies.

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