Close Reading American Literature

How could you hear something if you are dead?

Yes, we did read many interesting assignments for this class, but I have decided that I am doing my final paper on Emily Dickinson because I find her poems really interesting. One of her famous poems is called I heard a Fly buzz. When we had to read her poems for class, the first line of the poem had hooked me in because the poem starts off by saying “I heard a fly buzz- when I died” (Dickinson 1), and I began to think on how one can hear something flying when they died. Was she talking about how now that she is now a ghost that she can still see and hear things that were around her? When we were working on our daily twitter question, my group was going to use this as our question “How could someone hear something if they are dead? But, Nadine said that she heard that it meant that Dickinson was actually having an orgasm. Since my topic for my final paper is about Emily Dickinson I went straight to looking up the response on what she really meant when she states “I heard a fly buzz”.

Gerhard Friedrich believed that “In an atmosphere of outward quiet and inner calm, the dying person collectedly proceeds to bequeath his or her worldly possessions, and while engaged in this activity of “willing,” finds his attention withdrawn by a fly’s buzzing”. I do see were Friedrich is coming from because as we died we want to remember the time we spent on Earth and the fly in a way symbolizes life, something that we are no longer able to have when we die. Dickinson continues her poem by saying “The stillness in the room. Was like the stillness in the air. Between the Heaves of Storm” (Lines 2-4). When she uses the word stillness I feel like Dickinson is trying to say that death is not only quick, but also can be silent. Her next lines are “The Eyes around – had wrung them dry – And Breaths were gathering firm  For that last Onset – when the King Be witnessed – in the Room –” (5-8) With “The eyes around” line I believe that there was people in the room that had just witness the death and the dying person did not what their love ones to cry over their death, but to in a way celebrate their life and the time that they have with each other. The poem goes on with if “I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away, What portion of me be Assignable – and then it was There interposed a Fly –” (Lines 9-12). She wanted the love ones to have her possessions and to remember that life should not be taken for granted. Dickinson ends her poem with “With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz – Between the light – and me -And then the Windows failed – and then I could not see to see –” (Line 13-16).  I believe what Dickinson was trying to say is that sometimes death is a good thing because there is no longer pain and suffering left.

I will admit that I am not a huge poem person, but I like Emily Dickinson’s poems because there are many ways that it can be interpreted. Sometimes writing a final paper can be hard, but I believe with the right sources that I will be able to write a good paper on Emily Dickinson and her poems and I hope that the rest of you guys are able to also find good sources and write a wonderful paper. 😀

Websites :

Poem :

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

Photo: Taken from Google imagines


7 thoughts on “How could you hear something if you are dead?

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post because I too find Emily Dickinson’s poetry very fascinating. When reading her poetry for class I was also confused at the possible meanings of her writing, especially this poem. My group and I pondered what kind of “after life” meaning his could have but were overall stumped. Your close readings helped to clarify what other parts of the poem could mean which was helpful. Gerhard Friedrich’s interpretation was also interesting to see as an alternative meaning behind this particular poem. Good luck with the rest of your paper. I think you’re off to an interesting start.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like how you found other scholars’ opinions on the meaning of the lines in Dickinson’s poetry, and that you analyze and comment on their interpretations. Besides Friedrich, which other scholars will you use in your paper? I would be interested to see various interpretations from different scholars on the same line, and I think you will do that in your paper. I would also love to know more specifically the topic you are writing about (because I love poetry)! Please share your thesis if you’d like! Thank you for your good wishes and good luck with your paper too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a very useful comment. It’s a great strength in your post (as it will be in your paper) that you found out what other scholars had to say on the matter. This makes your reading and study of Dickinson much, much stronger.

      Note that poem names are put in quotation marks and NOT italicized. Everyone in the class would do well to take note of this.


  3. It’s refreshing to find out someone in our class is willing to take on the challenge of deciphering the always ambiguous Emily Dickinson. I remember in one of my summer courses I took a class where we also discussed Dickinson. I was assigned to interpret her “My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun” poem and I think it would be really interesting mentioning it in your paper as it also portrays death in an enigmatic fashion. You could definitely go into detail about the grammatical structure, and its significance, of “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died” as it follows Dickinson’s signature use of dashes and capitalization of words.

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  4. I enjoyed this blog post because you weren’t afraid to tell us that you were confused about the poem. I was confused, as well, and a lot of us were. I liked how you looked up what the buzzing of the fly literally means. Your research was very good and proves that you want to find the answer about this poem! Good work!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree–it’s a brave thing to know what you don’t know, and to use that as a springboard to go and find out the answer. Sound in particular is really interesting in Dickinson and several scholars are writing about it now. To help you search for an answer look up Dickinson with useful search words like these: sound, music, listening, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Melanie, I really like your post and that you choose someone whose poems I personally had trouble interpreting. I too had the same questions and I like that you question her motives and are curious as to what she means. I think that this makes your post easily approachable and opens the mind of the reader to think outside of the box. I really hope that as you do more research you will find all the answers that you seek. When you finish your paper please let me read it, your post has made me curious as well!

    Liked by 2 people

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