Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems

Tone, Symbolism, and Diction in I heard a Fly buzz—when I died: Literary Criticism 12th Grade

The infamous scene portraying an individual on their deathbed has been recreated numerous times in films, literature, and poetry. Some showcase a peaceful, tranquil death, while others depict pain and grief. However, in the 19th century poem, I heard a Fly buzz—when I died, Emily Dickinson simultaneously discusses both the serene moments that may be experienced when one is ready and accepting of death and the fear they may have of the unknown. The speaker of Dickinson’s poem is writing from beyond the grave, recalling the atmosphere leading up to her death and how a bothersome fly intruded on her final moments. Dickinson utilizes intense tone shift, diction, and symbolism to depict themes of mortality, focusing on the eerie, yet peaceful period of time prior to death, from the perspective of an individual who has just died.

Throughout the poem, Dickinson switches between a tranquil tone in which the speaker appears ready to die and an unsettling, disconnected tone that is elicited by the fly. The poem begins with the speaker recalling, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—” (1). The connection between a fly and death immediately creates a sinister, grotesque tone, as the audience is forced to picture a decaying body surrounded by...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 1314 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 9858 literature essays, 2494 sample college application essays, 464 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in