Text of the Poem



I heard a fly buzz when I died;
   The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
   Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
   And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
   Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away
   What portion of me I
Could make assignable, — and then
   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.


  1. Line thirteen features assonance, or the repetition of vowel sounds. The repetition of the vowel “u” sound in “blue,” “uncertain,” “stumbling,” and “buzz” builds anticipation of the final moment of death by drawing out the sound of the words, thus intensifying their impact.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Dickinson uses alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds, in lines thirteen and fourteen. By repeating the sound of the consonant “b” in “blue,” “buzz,” and “between,” the speaker conveys the sensory experience of hearing the fly buzz as her eyesight begins to fail. Further, the repetition of a voiced consonant like “b” is particularly disruptive to the flow of the final stanza in combination with the punctuation that interrupts and ends both lines.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The verb “to interpose” means to get in the way of or to place something in between things or people. Here, the fly interrupts this grave moment by disrupting the seriousness of the occasion with its buzzing. Its sudden presence also disrupts the momentous climax that the reader has been primed to expect: a fly appears in place of “the king.” Dickinson may also suggest that the fly itself is the king, which is a possible allusion to Beelzebub, a demon from Milton’s Paradise Lost that ranks next to Satan and has been adopted into Christian theology and popularized as the Lord of the Flies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The noun “keepsakes” refers to the speaker’s valuables, which have been given to loved ones to remember the speaker by. These items are traditionally assigned to specific people in a person’s will, a signed legal document that distributes a person’s belongings after death. Dickinson’s word choice indicates that these items are sentimental, rather than monetarily valuable.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Lines six, seven, and eight are enjambed, which means that they contain a thought or phrase that flows from one line into the next. Enjambment creates a sense of anticipation that extends from the simile established in the first stanza, in which the stillness inside the speaker’s room resembles that of the stillness during a lull in a storm. Dickinson further heightens the reader’s anticipation by suggesting that “the king,” presumably an allusion to Jesus Christ, will appear at “that last onset,” or the speaker’s death.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This line uses a synecdoche, or a device in which a whole thing is referred to by the name of one of its parts. Dickinson refers to the speaker’s loved ones as “eyes,” rather than as entire people, to signify their intense mourning. Each individual, helpless in the face of inevitable death, is reduced to a pair of weeping eyes that are being wrung dry.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Dickinson employs a simile, or the comparison of two things using the word “like” or “as,” in her description of the scene in the speaker’s room. By comparing the “stillness round my form” to the “stillness in the air / Between the heaves of storm” the speaker suggests that chaos and violence will soon follow. Her choice of the word “heave” also suggests weeping—thus indicating that the violent storm represents the emotional distress that the speaker’s loved ones will undergo after she dies. Dickinson’s original text for line two reads “The Stillness in the Room,” shifting emphasis from the speaker’s personal experience to the environment in which the poem is set.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Lines two and three feature sibilance, or the repetition of the consonant “s,” with the repetition of “stillness,” creating a hissing sound when read aloud. This hissing sound reinforces the poem’s gloomy tone while also developing anticipation for whatever might interrupt that heavy silence.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The poem opens with an end-stopped line, or a phrase that concludes with punctuation—in this case, a semicolon; in the original, an em dash. The end-stopped line slows down the reading process so that readers linger with the content of the first line, which creates a heavy, somber tone.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The editors removed an em dash (—) that interrupts the first line of the poem to set off “when I died.” This dash is an example of caesura, or a break within a line of verse. Without the caesura, the line flows uninterrupted; however, Dickinson’s use of caesura here and in other poems helps establish emphasis and rhythm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. This is the public domain version of Dickinson’s poem, which was part of an 1896 collection edited by her friends Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson to conform to certain literary conventions of the time. Notably, her trademark dashes have been changed, and other adjustments in word choice and syntax have been called out in annotations.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor