("I Heard A Fly Buzz–when I Died") Essay, Research Paper
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"willing," finds his attention withdrawn by a fly’s buzzing.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
CHARLES R. ANDERSON
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
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.
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.
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"
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
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