John Ciardi: On 465 ("I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--")

I read Mr. Gerhard Friedrich's explication . . . of Emily Dickinson's poem with great interest, but I find myself preferring a different explication.

Mr. Friedrich says of the fly: "Even so small a demonstrative, demonstrable creature is sufficient to separate the dying person from 'the light,' i.e. to blur the vision, to short-circuit mental concentration, so that spiritual awareness is lost. The last line of the poem may then be paraphrased to read: 'Waylaid by irrelevant, tangible, finite objects of little importance, I was no longer capable of that deeper perception which would clearly reveal to me the infinite spiritual reality.'"

Mr. Friedrich's argument is coherent and respectable, but I feel it tends to make Emily more purely mystical than I sense her to be. I understand that fly to be the last kiss of the world, the last buzz from life. Certainly Emily's tremendous attachment to the physical world, and her especial delight both in minute creatures for their own sake, and in minute actions for the sake of the dramatic implications that can be loaded into them, hardly needs to be documented. Any number of poems illustrate her delight in the special significance of tiny living things. "Elysium is as Far" will do as a single example of her delight in packing a total-life significance into the slightest actions:

What fortitude the Soul contains,

That it can so endure

The accent of a coming Foot—

The opening of a Door—


[#1760—Poems, 1890, p. 46]

I find myself better persuaded, therefore, to think of the fly not as a distraction taking Emily's thoughts from glory and blocking the divine light (When did Emily ever think of living things as a distraction?), but as a last dear sound from the world as the light of consciousness sank from her, i.e. "the windows failed." And so I take the last line to mean simply: "And then there was no more of me, and nothing to see with."


Title John Ciardi: On 465 ("I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--") Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author John Ciardi Criticism Target Emily Dickinson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 17 Aug 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
Printer Friendly PDF Version
Contexts No Data Tags No Data

Rate this Content

No Data
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Total votes: 0
Use the above slider to rate this item. You can only submit one rating per item, and your rating will be factored in to the item's popularity on our listings.

Share via Social Media