On Emily Dickinson’s ” I Heard A Fly Buzz”

” I Heard A Fly Buzz” is allusive, with a deceptively simple surface language, and written in a clear prose free from extravagant syllables. Beneath that , however, lies a gorgeously vivid lyrical montage of the final, fleeting moments of life, written in a compact, clear and sometimes breathtaking lyricism. As a whole, it’s clarity, brevity and craft are nothing short of mesmerizing.

The first thing that struck me after two readings is how there is no clear and well defined message, no succinct statement, no tidy moral. To paraphrase, WH Auden’s . To me, that’s the greatness of it, as what carries the poem is the succinctness of her images and metaphors and how both contribute to the internal action of the narrative. Almost everything she describes has a movement to it, the buzzing fly, the stillness of her form as a metaphor before a calm of the storm, eyes that are wrung dry, her final breaths gathering etc. Instead of telling you directly, it shows you the actions surrounding and leading to Dickinson’s imagined passing.

Those images wouldn’t have as much impact if it wasn’t written in a style that says so much in so little space, as well as saying so much in what she left out. You see in how she sets up the scene in the first line, ” I heard a fly buzz when I died”. In that line you know that A: a fly had buzzed B: the protagonist is dead C: the poem is going to be about the surrounding environment. But what gives the poem it’s gut tearing power is it’s devastating metaphors: the stillness of her body akin to the stillness of a coming storm( I:E the storm of death. The eyes that were wrung dry. The failing windows.)

Her last line ” I could not see to see” , might be seen by some as anti climatic, but so what? Yes, A description of an imaginary heaven and afterlife might been an cuter ending. But it would have taken away a significant amount of the emotional power of the poem. What makes it stirring is that it describes a person who is a close to that afterlife as can be realistically described. In that way it’s hyper realism brings the reader closer to a spirit world than the most extravagantly imagined poetic landscape ever could. That along with a level of craft brilliant enough to make you cry is the reason I think ” I Heard A Fly Buzz” is one of the greatest poems I have ever read.


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