On 465

("I Heard A Fly Buzz–when I Died") Essay, Research Paper

Gerhard Friedrich

This poem seems to present two major problems to the interpreter.

First, what is the significance of the buzzing fly in relation to the dying person, and

second, what is the meaning of the double use of "see" in the last line? An

analysis of the context helps to clear up these apparent obscurities, and a close parallel

found in another Dickinson poem reinforces such interpretation.

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"willing," finds his attention withdrawn by a fly’s buzzing. The fly is

introduced in intimate connection with "my keepsakes" and "what portion of

me be assignable"; it follows—and is the culmination of—the dying person’s

preoccupation with cherished material things no longer of use to the departing owner. In

the face of death, and even more of a possible spiritual life beyond death, one’s concern

with a few earthly belongings is but a triviality, and indeed a distraction from a

momentous issue. The obtrusiveness of the inferior, physical aspects of existence, and the

busybody activity associated with them, is poignantly illustrated by the intervening

insect (cf. the line "Buzz the dull flies on the chamber window," in the poem

beginning "How many times these low feet staggered"). 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." As Emily Dickinson herself expressed it, in another Second Series

poem beginning "Their height in heaven comforts not":

I’m finite, I can’t see.

. . . .

This timid life of evidence

Keeps pleading, "1 don’t know."

[#696—Poems, 1891, p. 197]

The dying person does in fact not merely suffer an unwelcome external interruption of

an otherwise resolute expectancy, but falls from a higher consciousness, from liberating

insight, from faith, into an intensely skeptical mood. The fly’s buzz is characterized as

"blue, uncertain, stumbling," and emphasis on the finite physical reality goes

hand in hand with a frustrating lack of absolute assurance. The only portion of a man not

properly "assignable" may be that which dies and decomposes! To the dying

person, the buzzing fly would thus become a timely, untimely reminder of man’s final,

cadaverous condition and putrefaction.

The sudden fall of the dying person into the captivity of an earth-heavy skepticism

demonstrates of course the inadequacy of the earlier pseudo-stoicism. What seemed then

like composure, was after all only a pause "between the heaves of storm"; the

"firmness" of the second stanza proved to be less than veritable peace of mind

and soul; and so we have a profoundly tragic human situation, namely the perennial

conflict between two concepts of reality, most carefully delineated.

The poem should be compared with its illuminating counterpart of the Second Series,

"Their height in heaven comforts not," and may be contrasted with "Death is

a dialogue between," "I heard as if I had no ear," and the well-known

"I never saw a moor."


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



In writing her best poems [Emily Dickinson] was never at the mercy of her emotions or

of the official rhetoric. She mastered her themes by controlling her language. She could

achieve a novel significance, for example, by starting with a death scene that implies the

orthodox questions and then turning the meaning against itself by the strategy of surprise

answers. . . . /231/ ["I heard a Fly buzz—when I died"] operates in terms

of all the standard religious assumptions of her New England, but with a difference. They

are explicitly gathered up in one phrase for the moment of death, with distinct Biblical

overtones, ‘that last Onset—when the King / Be witnessed—in the Room.’ But how

is he witnessed?

As the poet dramatizes herself in a deathbed scene, with family and friends gathered

round, her heightened senses report the crisis in flat domestic terms that bring to the

reader’s mind each of the traditional questions only to deny them without even asking

them. Her last words were squandered in distributing her ‘Keepsakes,’ trivial tokens of

this life rather than messages from the other. The only sound of heavenly music, or of

wings taking flight, was the ‘Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz’ of a fly that filled her

dying ear. Instead of a final vision of the hereafter, this world simply faded from her

eyes: the light in the windows failed and then she ‘could not see to see.’ The King

witnessed in his power is physical death, not God. To take this poem literally as an

attempted inside view of the gradual extinction of consciousness and the beginning of the

soul’s flight into eternity would be to distort its meaning, for this is not an

imaginative projection of her own death. In structure, in language, in imagery it is

simply an ironic reversal of the conventional attitudes of her time and place toward the

significance of the moment of death. Yet mystery is evoked by a single word, that

extraordinarily interposed color ‘Blue.’

To misread such a poem would be to misunderstand the whole cast of Dickinson’s mind.

Few poets saw more clearly the boundary between what can and what cannot be comprehended,

and so held the mind within its proper limitations. . . . /232/


Emily Dickinson’s "I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died" should be read, I think,

with a particular setting in mind—a nineteenth-century deathbed scene. Before the age

of powerful anodynes death was met in full consciousness, and the way of meeting it tended

to be stereotype. It was affected with a public interest and concern, and was witnessed by

family and friends. They crowded the death chamber to wait expectantly a burst of dying

energy to bring on the grand act of passing. Commonly it began with last-minute bequests,

the wayward were called to repentance, the backslider to reform, gospel hymns were sung,

and finally as climax the dying one gave witness in words to the Redeemer’s presence in

the room, how He hovered, transplendent in the upper air, with open arms outstretched to

receive the departing soul. This was death’s great moment. Variants there were, of course,

in case of repentant and unrepentant sinners. Here in this poem the central figure of the

drama is expected to make a glorious exit. The build-up is just right for it, but at the

moment of climax "There interposed a fly." And what kind of a fly? A fly

"with blue, uncertain stumbling buzz"—a blowfly.

How right is Mr. Gerhard Friedrich in his explication . . . to associate the fly with

putrefaction and decay. And how wrong, I think, is Mr. John Ciardi . . . in calling the

fly "the last kiss of the world," and speaking of it as one of the small

creatures Emily Dickinson so delighted in. She could not possibly have entertained any

such view of a blowfly. She was a practical housewife, and every housewife abhors a

blowfly. It pollutes everything it touches. Its eggs are maggots. It is as carrion as a


What we know of Emily Dickinson gives us assurance that just as she would abhor the

blowfly she would abhor the deathbed scene. How devastatingly she disposes of the

projected one in the poem. "They talk of hallowed things and embarrass my dog"

she writes in 1862 in a letter to Mr. Higginson (Letters, 1958, II, 415).Sharon Cameron

We must imagine the speaker looking back on an experience in which her expectations of

death were foiled by its reality. The poem begins with the speaker’s perception of the

fly, not yet a central awareness both because of the way in which the fly manifests itself

(as sound) and because of the degree to which it manifests itself (as a triviality). As a

consequence of the speaker’s belief in the magnitude of the event and the propriety with

which it should be enacted, the fly seems merely indecorous, as yet a marginal

disturbance, attracting her attention the way in which something we have not yet invested

with meaning does. In a poem very much concerned with the question of vision, it is

perhaps strange that the dominant concern in stanza one should be auditory. But upon

reflection it makes sense, for the speaker is hearing a droning in the background before

the source of the noise comes into view. The poem describes the way in which things come

into view, slowly.

What is striking in the second stanza is the speaker’s lack of involvement in the

little drama that is being played out. She is acutely conscious that there will be a

struggle with death, but she imagines it is the people around her who will undergo it. Her

detachment and tranquility seem appropriate if we imagine them to come in the aftermath of

pain, a subject that is absent in the poem and whose absence helps to place the experience

at the moment before death. At such a moment, the speaker’s concern is focused on others,

for being the center of attention with all eyes upon her, she is at leisure to return the

stare. Her concern with her audience continues in the third stanza and prompts the tone of

officiousness there. Wanting to set things straight, the speaker wishes to add the

finishing touches to her life, to conclude it the way one would a business deal. The

desire to structure and control experience is not, however, carried out in total

blindness, for she is clearly cognizant of those "Keep-sakes—" not hers to

give. Even at this point her conception of dying may be a preconception but it is not one

founded on total ignorance.

The speaker has been imagining herself as a queen about to leave her people, conscious

of the majesty of the occasion, presiding over it. She expects to witness death as

majestic, too, or so one infers from the way in which she speaks of him in stanza two. The

staginess of the conception, however, has little to do with what Charles Anderson calls

"an ironic reversal of the conventional attitudes of [Dickinson's] time and place

toward the significance of the moment of death." If it did, the poem would arbitrate

between the social meanings and personal ones. But the conflict between preconception and

perception takes place inside. Or rather preconception gives way only to darkness. For at

the conclusion of the third stanza the fly "interpose[s]," coming between the

speaker and the onlookers, between her predictive fantasy of the event and its reality,

between life and death. The fact that the fly obscures the former allows the speaker to

see the latter. Perspective suddenly shifts to the right thing: from the ritual of dying

to the fact of death. It is, of course, the fly who obliterates the speaker’s false

notions of death, for it is with his coming that she realizes that she is the witness and

he the king, that the ceremony is a "stumbling" one. It is from a perspective

schooled by the fly that she writes.

As several previous discussions of the poem have acknowledged, the final stanza begins

with a complicated synesthesia: "With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz—."

The adjective "stumbling" (used customarily to describe only an action) here

also describes a sound, and the adverb "uncertain" the quality of that sound.

The fusion would not be so interesting if its effect were not to evoke that moment in

perception when it is about to fail. As in a high fever, noises are amplified, the light

in the room takes on strange hues, one effect seems indistinguishable from another.

Although there is a more naturalistic explanation for the word "stumbling" (to

describe the way in which flies go in and out of our hearing), the poem is so predicated

on the phenomenon of displacement and projection (of the speaker’s feelings onto the

onlookers, of the final blindness onto the "Windows," of the fact of perception

onto the experience of death) that the image here suggests another dramatic

displacement—the fusion of the fly’s death with her own. Thus flies when they are

about to die move as if poisoned, sometimes hurl themselves against a ceiling, pause, then

rise to circle again, then drop. At this moment the changes the speaker is undergoing are

fused with their agent: her experience becomes one with the fly’s. It is her observance of

that fly, being mesmerized by it (in a quite literal sense now, since death is quite

literal), that causes her mind to fumble at the world and lose grip of it. The final two

lines "And then the Windows failed—and then / I could not see to see—"

are brilliant in their underlining of the poem’s central premise; namely that death is

survived by perception, for in these lines we are told that there are two senses of

vision, one of which remains to see and document the speaker’s own blindness ("and

then / I could not see to see—"). The poem thus penetrates to the invisible

imagination which strengthens in response to the loss of visible sight.

I mentioned earlier that the poem presumes a shift of perspective, an enlightened

change from the preconception of death to its perception. In order to assume that the

speaker is educated by her experience, we must assume the fact of it: we must credit the

death as a real one. But the fiction required by the poem renders it logically baffling.

For although the poem seems to proceed in a linear fashion toward an end, its entire

premise is based on the lack of finality of that end, the speaker who survives death to

tell her story of it. We are hence left wondering: How does the poem imagine an ending? If

it does not, what replaces a sense of an ending? How does it conceive of the relationship

between past, present, and future? To address these questions adequately, we need to look

at some theories of time against which the poem’s own singular conception may more sharply

be visible.

from Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre. Copyright ? 1979 by The

Johns Hopkins UP.

John Crowe Ransom

And since this was a strange poet, I shall begin with two of the

stranger poems; they deal with Death, but they are not from the elegiac poems about

suffering the death of others, they are previsions of her own death. In neither does Death

present himself as absolute in some brutal majesty, nor in the role of God’s dreadful

minister. The transaction is homely and easy, for the poet has complete sophistication in

these matters, having attended upon deathbeds, and knowing that the terror of the event is

mostly for the observers. In the first poem (# 465) a sort of comic or Gothic relief

interposes, by one of those homely inconsequences which may be observed in fact to attend

even upon desperate human occasions.

The other poem (#712) is a more imaginative creation. It is a single sustained

metaphor, all of it analogue or "vehicle" as we call it nowadays, though the

character called Death in the vehicle would have borne the same name in the real situation

or "tenor." Death’s victim now is the shy spinster, so he presents himself as a

decent civil functionary making a call upon a lady to take her for a drive.

From "Emily Dickinson: A Poet Restored," in Perspectives USA (1956)

Copyright ? 1956 by John Crowe Ransom.

Paula Bennett

Like many people in her period, Dickinson was

fascinated by death-bed scenes. How, she asked various correspondents, did this or that

person die? In particular, she wanted to know if their deaths revealed any information

about the nature of the afterlife. In this poem, however, she imagines her own death-bed

scene, and the answer she provides is grim, as grim (and, at the same time, as ironically

mocking), as anything she ever wrote.

In the narrowing focus of death, the fly’s insignificant buzz, magnified tenfold by the

stillness in the room, is all that the speaker hears. This kind of distortion in scale is

common. It is one of the ‘illusions’ of perception. But here it is horrifying because it

defeats every expectation we have. Death is supposed to be an experience of awe. It is the

moment when the soul, departing the body, is taken up by God. Hence the watchers at the

bedside wait for the moment when the ‘King’ (whether God or death) ‘be witnessed’ in the

room. And hence the speaker assigns away everything but that which she expects God (her

soul) or death (her body) to take.

What arrives instead, however, is neither God nor death but a fly, ‘[w]ith

Blue—uncertain–stumbling Buzz,’ a fly, that is, no more secure, no more sure, than

we are. Dickinson had associated flies with death once before in the exquisite lament,

‘How many times these low feet/staggered.’ In this poem, they buzz ‘on the/ chamber

window,’ and speckle it with dirt (# 187, F, 152), reminding us that the housewife, who

once protected us from such intrusions, will protect us no longer. Their presence is

threatening but only in a minor way, ‘dull’ like themselves. They are a background noise

we do not have to deal with yet.

In ‘I heard a Fly buzz,’ on the other hand, there is only one fly and its buzz is not

only foregrounded. Before the poem is over, the buzz takes up the entire field of

perception, coming between the speaker and the ‘light’ (of day, of life, of knowledge). It

is then that the ‘Windows’ (the eyes that are the windows of the soul as well as,

metonymically, the light that passes through the panes of glass) ‘fail’ and the speaker is

left in darkness–in death, in ignorance. She cannot ’see’ to ’see’ (understand).

Given that the only sure thing we know about ‘life after death’ is that flies–in their

adult form and more particularly, as maggots–devour us, the poem is at the very least a

grim joke. In projecting her death-bed scene, Dickinson confronts her ignorance and gives

back the only answer human knowledge can with any certainty give. While we may hope for an

afterlife, no one, not even the dying, can prove it exists.

Like ‘Four Trees–upon a solitary/Acre, ‘ ‘I heard a Fly buzz’ represents an extreme

position. I believe that to Dickinson it was a position that reduced human life to too

elementary and meaningless a level. Abdicating belief, cutting off God’s hand, as in ‘I

heard a Fly buzz’ (a poem that tests precisely this situation), leaves us with nothing.

Not just God, but we ourselves are reduced–a fact that has become painfully evident in

twentieth-century literature. . . .

From Emily Dickinson, Woman Poet. Copyright ? 1990 by Paulk Bennett. Reprinted

by permission of the author.

Cynthia Griffin Wolff

Throughout, the "eye /I" of the speaker struggles to retain power.

Ironically, although the final, haunting sentence has to do with sight, "I could not

see to see–," at no time in the course of the poem can the speaker maintain an

ordered visual grasp of the world. "The Ear is the last Face," Dickinson wrote

to Higginson. We hear after we see." Thus is it in this work. We begin this poem

about seeing—with sound.

In the first stanza, the "I" can still assert straightforward utterances of

fact in a comprehensive manner; however, the faculty of sight has already begun to slip

away. In the following stanza, "Eyes" belong only to others—ghostly,

anonymous presences gathered to attest to God’s action. The speaker no longer retains

either an autonomous "I" or the physical power of eyesight. A volitional self is

recollected in stanza three, but the memory is one of relinquishment, the execution of the

speaker’s last "will" and testament. Indeed, one element of the

poem’s bitter contrast is concentrated in the juxtaposition of the ruthless will of

the Deity, Who determines fate, and the speaker’s "will"—reduced by

now to the legal document that has been designed to restore order in the aftermath of

dissolution. And at this moment of double "execution," when tacit

acknowledgement of God’s ineluctable force is rendered, identity begins to fritter

away. The speaker formulates thought in increasingly strained synecdochic and metonymical

tropes. The possessions of the dying Voice are designated as the "portions of me

[that] be / Assignable–," not as discrete objects that belong to someone and are

separate from her, but as blurred extensions of a fraying self that can no longer define

the limits of identity. The "uncertain" quality that inheres in the

speaker’s eyesight is assigned to the "stumbling Buzz" of the fly; it is

the speaker’s faculties that have "failed," but in the verse, the speaker

attributes failure to the "Windows." The confusions inherent in this rhetorical

finale of the poem aptly render the atomizing self as the stately centrifugal force of

dissolution begins to scatter being and consciousness.

Like many other proleptic poems, "I heard a Fly buzz—" serves

several functions. It does provide a means of "Looking at Death"; in addition,

however, it strives to define both death and life in unaccustomed ways. Thus it is

centrally concerned to posit "seeing" as a form of power: "to see" is

to assert authority and autonomy—the authority to define life in ways that will be

meaningful not only to oneself, perhaps, but to other as well, and autonomy to reject the

criteria and limits God would force upon us, even if such an act will inevitably elicit

God’s wrath. Death robs us of all bodily sensations; more important, however, it

wrests this autonomous authority from us, the final and most devastating wound, "I

could not see to see–." Ironically, the strategy of the poem mimics

God’s method, for a reader is enabled to comprehend the value of "sight"

here principally by experiencing the horror of its loss. Moreover, the poem even suggest

that some ways of engaging with the world during "life" may be no more than

forms of animated death. Eating, sleeping, exercising the physical faculties—these

alone do not describe "life"; and many pass through existence with a form of

"blindness" that fatally compromises the integrity of self. Thus the poem offer

a counsel to the living by strongly implying the crucial importance of daring "to

see" while life still lasts, and one way in which the poet can be Representative is

by offering a model of active insight that is susceptible of emulation.

From Emily Dickinson. Copyright ? 1988 by Cynthia Wolff.

Claudia Yukman

Not only does the frame of the conversion narrative enable us to

categorize a great number of Dickinson’s poems, it also provides insight into some of her

most formally singular narrative poems, namely, those in which a subject addresses us from

beyond the grave. Our unbounded subjectivity can only be perceptible at moments of extreme

crises that exceed systems of

explanation and semiotic codes. Birth would be one such extreme, but since an infant does

not have the dual persepective

language gives, perhaps the most primal scene at which the duality between our socially

constructed selves and our embodiment can actually be witnessed or narrated is death. In

"I heard a Fly buzz — when I died," Dickinson employs the Christian narrative

model, with its particular eschatological frame of experience, to tell of a deathwatch

such as I have cited above, but her narrative fails to produce the reality that the

Christian narrative represents.

I heard a Fly buzz — when I died —

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air —

Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around — had wrung them dry —

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset — when the King

Be witnessed — in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes–Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable — and then it was

There interposed a Fly –

With Blue — uncertain stumbling Buzz —

Between the light — and me —

And then the Windows failed — and then

I could not see to see –

The narrative that creates this drama is about "that last Onset –

when the King / Be witnessed — in the Room — ." For the

witnesses in the room, the dying speaker’s countenance and her last words will necessarily

represent either Christ’s presence or

absence. The subject’s life might be described as a narrative life; in other words, the

subject has become the object of a narrative, her subjectivity reduced to the portion of a

life that can be narrated as the story of Christ’s coming.

The authoritative "sense of an ending" created by the prior narrative (the

second coming) is reflected in the secular ritual

of redistributing one’s property before death as well as by the religious ritual of the

deathwatch. Both institutions recognize a

dualistic self. The speaker of this poem knows herself through the narrative version of

identity as "portions assignable" (material,

bodily) and unassignable (unknown, soul). In effect, by writing a will she divides herself

from earthly life. As the text of a dualistic self the will reflects back to its author

the difference between bodily and spiritual life. Once the will is written, the

author is past writing and this earthly life. The remainder of life is lived in an

inferential space between a body and soul at least

provisionally identified with sensory perception.

The account of this scene, which I have just given, might have been told by anyone in the

room, even before entering the

room, because the Christian narrative precedes and formulates the experience of this

community of witnesses. But with the

intervention of the fly, the point of view can only be that of the subject of the

enounced. In her experience the narrative frame

breaks down. The random presence of the fly usurps the place of the king; the unexpected,

meaningless event, seen within the

narrative frame, becomes the significant event. The random significance of the fly thus

points to the random significance of the

narrative frame itself. The fly prevents the speaker from seeing the light; it distracts

her from the appropriate (Christian) sense of

an ending. But the fly is only an externalized form of the fact that the body of the

speaker itself interrupted the narrative, as the

speaker experienced from within her body what there was in the room beyond the narrative.

The body, it turns out, like the

soul, is a portion of the self that cannot be signed away. In fact, while the thoughts of

the people in the room have been

organized by the Christian narrative, unreferenced bodily presence has also pervaded the

room: the anonymous, plural "Eyes"

and "Breaths."

Given the two competing frames of experience, the Christian narrative and the body, there

arises an ambiguity in the last

line of this poem, which can be formulated as two questions: was there more to see — a

world beyond experience — and, how

is it that the speaker keeps speaking after she claims she "could not see,"

presumably meaning she died, since she goes on to

say "to see" again? This second "to see" repeats the gesture of the

entire poem; it exceeds the limits of narratability itself — to

represent a speaker who speaks after death.

The body as self or as object in relation to God cannot serve as a sign of God’s presence

because the individual’s experience of being embodied has become its own reality — a sign

of itself. The experience of being embodied has lost its referent; subjectivity is only

articulated as bodily presence. Dickinson is writing about the unreferencing of the body

from forms of subjectivity other than itself. This daring gesture figuratively places

experience before meaning and language as sign before language as signifier, but in doing

so it also attempts to realize through representation a more radical shift: it embodies

the self

before constructing that embodiment. While I would hasten to add that the body is

functioning as a sign rather than some essential body, it is not functioning as a sign

within the system of signs that is the Christian narrative.

The Christian narrative recognizes a self that has a body and a soul. Dickinson’s text

recognizes a subjectivity that cannot

be split into this dichotomy. Like the body, the text must register presence and the

gesture of writing, but it need not delimit

either. The question for interpretation is what is it to be alive (as symbolized by the

fly) rather than what is the meaning of being

alive (as symbolized by the King). "I heard a fly buzz when I died" is told

after death, where there can be no writing according

to the Christian narrative’s frame of experience. If it does not tell us what happened

after death, constricted as it is by its

relationship to the prior narrative, the poem nonetheless, as a text, exists beyond the

death in exactly the eschatological space

the Christian narrative invents.

In many of her narrative poems situated around a death, Dickinson distinguishes the

Christian representation of death from the sensations she experiences as a witness of

death (and we experience as readers). These distinctive poems are situated at the scene of

death neither because Dickinson has any peculiar fascination for death, nor simply because

she is using stock conventions also to be found in the poetry of her contemporaries.

Dickinson uses the convention of the deathwatch as a way to

consider the self at a moment when its culturally-assigned significance is weakest, and

she does so in order to escape the Christian narrative frame.

[. . . .]

The object status of a subject within a narrative is dramatically played out in

Dickinson’s frequently discussed poem, "My

Life had stood — a Loaded Gun — ." In this poem the subject fears the permanence of

the text as much as death, or rather,

fears the overdetermination of her subjectivity by the text more than "the power to


from "Breaking the Eschatological Frame: Dickinson’s Narrative

Acts" Emily Dickinson Journal Vol. 1, No.1, 1992. Online Source: http://www.colorado.edu/EDIS/journal/articles/I.1.Yukman.html


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