literary works A Short evaluation of Emily Dickinson’s ‘I heard a paris buzz – as soon as I died’

A critical reading that a classic Dickinson poem by Dr Oliver Tearle

Death is a template that looms big in the poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-86), and perhaps no an ext so 보다 in the commemorated poem of hers that starts ‘I heard a paris buzz – when I died’. This is not simply a poem around death: the a poem about the occasion of death, the minute of dying. Below is the poem, and also a brief evaluation of that language and meaning.

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I heard a fly buzz – when I died –The Stillness in the RoomWas like the Stillness in the waiting –Between the Heaves the Storm –

The Eyes approximately – had wrung them dry –And Breaths were gathering firmFor that last beginning – as soon as the KingBe experienced – in the Room –


I willed my Keepsakes – Signed awayWhat portion of me beAssignable – and then that wasThere interposed a fly –

With Blue – unsure – stumbling Buzz –Between the light – and also me –And then the windows failed – and also thenI can not check out to watch –


‘I heard a fly buzz – when I died’: summary

In summary, ‘I heard a paris buzz – as soon as I died’ is a poem spoken by a dead person: note the previous tense of ‘died’ in that very first line. The speak is currently dead, and also is telling us about what happened at she deathbed. (We to speak ‘her’ however the speaker might well be masculine – Dickinson frequently adopts a masculine voice in she poems, therefore the point remains moot.)


And dying, among the many momentous events in anyone’s life (and absolutely the last), is foregrounded in that opened line – though not as lot as it can be. No, first we need to heard about the fly the buzzed.

The opened line, ‘I heard a fly buzz – once I died’, is opposing of bathos (that anti-climax whereby one start grandly and then fizzles out, such as in Alexander Pope’s celebrated line from The Rape of the Lock: ‘Dost sometimes counsel take, and sometimes tea’): here, we start with the little – the literally small – and also end through the momentous, ‘died’.


Everything, we room told, was still and also silent about the speaker’s deathbed. Also the mourners attending her have actually stopped weeping: ‘The Eyes about – had wrung lock dry’, definition ‘their eyes had wrung themselves dry’ or ‘they had wrung their eyes dry’ with crying. Now’s not the moment for tears: only stillness and also silence. Everyone, Dickinson’s speaker speak us, appeared braced for the moment when the speak of the poem would certainly die, and also the ‘King’ would be ‘witnessed’ in the room – maybe King Death, comes to take it the speaker away.

The speaker had just signed her will doling the end her ‘Keepsakes’ to she beneficiaries, and also it to be then, we are told, after her last will and also testament had actually been signed, that the fly ‘interposed’ itself in the scene. ‘With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz’ uses Dickinson’s trademark dashes to great effect, send the sudden, darting method flies can move about a room, especially roughly light.


We may not have actually thought of such a activity as ‘stumbling’ (can paris insects stumble?) and so the existence of the word pulls united state up short, renders us stumble over Dickinson’s line.

‘I heard a paris buzz – once I died’: analysis


This paris comes in between the speaker and also ‘the light’. Has she watched the light? how should we translate this? Is it simply the candle or lamp in the room lighting the (such as would tempt a bluebottle to it), or is the ‘light’ signalling the arrival of the ‘King’, Death? has actually he come because that her?

And why then execute the windows fail, and also how have to we analyse that last line, ‘I might not check out to see’? maybe one proviso is available by the way we talk, in the English language, of ‘seers’ and also ‘second sight’: seers were often blind in that they couldn’t physically see, however in an additional sense lock saw additional than anyone else due to the fact that they had actually the gift that foresight and also prophecy (consider Tiresias from Oedipus Rex). ‘Second sight’, similarly, is a supposed type of clairvoyance whereby the gifted person has access to one invisible people – the world beyond death, because that instance.


So the speaker could be saying (at the moment of death itself?) the she might no much longer physically see in stimulate to find her method forward right into the next world. Consider the an ext everyday phrase, ‘I can’t carry out right because that doing wrong’: Dickinson’s last line can be analysed as a cryptic sport on that expression.

Flies, the course, are associated with death and also the dead: they feeding on the dead. However the visibility of this fly stays puzzling. Exactly how should us analyse ‘I heard a paris buzz’ in regards to its main image or object: the paris itself? Is this association between death and flies feeding top top corpses and carrion all there is come it, or is that the deliberate location junxtap of the very tiny (a typical insect) and the very huge (death itself) the Dickinson wants united state to think about? The concern remains open.


Dickinson’s rhymes can often seem haphazard: half-rhymes, off-rhymes, native that have actually only the vaguest sound in common between them. However there is a fragile interplay the rhymes in ‘I heard a fly buzz’. ‘Room’ and also ‘Storm’ in that an initial stanza space echoed in the following stanza, which has ‘firm’ and also ‘Room’; ‘died’ i do not care tautened, or dried out, into ‘dry’; in the 3rd stanza, the ‘be’ the rhymes v ‘Fly’ calls increase the ‘Buzz’ that is argued by be(e), and the rhyming ‘me’ and ‘see’ in that final stanza. (‘Buzz’ is additionally foreshadowed through ‘was’ in the coming before stanza, v this little verb gift retrospectively urged to sign up with in the onomatopoeia the ‘Buzz’.)

In the last analysis, ‘I heard a fly buzz – as soon as I died’ is just one of Emily Dickinson’s most popular poems probably due to the fact that of the elusiveness, and because – like plenty of of her an excellent poems, and her meditations on death – it raises an ext questions 보다 it settles. How do you analyze the fly in this poem?

About Emily Dickinson

Perhaps no other poet has actually attained together a high reputation after their death that to be unknown to them during their lifetime. Born in 1830, Emily Dickinson live her totality life in ~ the few miles about her hometown the Amherst, Massachusetts. She never married, regardless of several romantic correspondences, and also was better-known together a gardener than as a poet while she was alive.

Nevertheless, the not fairly true (as it’s sometimes alleged) that none the Dickinson’s poems was published throughout her very own lifetime. A handful – fewer 보다 a dozen of part 1,800 poems she created in complete – showed up in an 1864 anthology, Drum Beat, published to raise money because that Union soldiers fighting in the civil War. Yet it was 4 years after she death, in 1890, that a publication of her poetry would show up before the American public for the an initial time and also her posthumous career would start to take it off.

Dickinson gathered around eight hundreds of her poems into tiny manuscript publications which she lovingly put together without informing anyone. She poetry is instantly recognisable for she idiosyncratic use of dashes in location of other forms of punctuation. She generally uses the four-line stanza (or quatrain), and, unusually because that a nineteenth-century poet, utilises pararhyme or half-rhyme as frequently as full rhyme. The epitaph on Emily Dickinson’s gravestone, composed by the poet herself, functions just two words: ‘called back’.

If you liked this poem, you might also enjoy these ten quick poems around death, and Dickinson’s classic poem around a snake, ‘A narrow fellow in the Grass’. If you want to own all of Dickinson’s exorbitant poetry in a single volume, you can: we recommend the Faber edition of her Complete Poems

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The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. That is the author of, amongst others, The mystery Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey with Curiosities of History

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 and The good War, The garbage Land and also the Modernist long Poem.

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Image: Black/white photo of Emily Dickinson by William C. North (1846/7), Wikimedia Commons.