Emily Dickinson’s Blue Fly Blue

The idea of the fly in this poem and the color blue have been churning around in my brain and I have to let some of it out (for the good and the bad!). Here’s the poem:

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 intriguing sound and sight of blue and buzz. An explosive little first sentence. Unexpected and intense, a good enough definition of Dickinson herself.

Stillness all around except for the fly buzzing. Between the force of a storm. After the storm that is birth and the storm that is life, death seems like a calm.

Eyesight is failing, they say hearing is the last to go. The last breaths were fast approaching the ultimate last breath and with it the power to control life and death.

Dickinson’s earthly goods were signed away in her hand-sewed booklets. The part of her available to give away is found in her poetry. Then comes the fly with blue and buzz.

Generally Western cultures are not fond of insects. We don’t eat them, we try to keep them out of our houses. A fly is often the first to home in on a corpse and begin to consume the abandoned flesh. As a signal to our mortality, a fly is not something we care to ponder.

It is shocking to see the fly hovering near the dying body seemingly ready to begin its ghastly work. Yet the fly is not scorned here, it is doing its part in nature.

She never formally accepted an organized religion during her lifetime. And she was well aware of the growing respect for science in her time as it pushed against the limits of human knowledge.

Blue is associated with truth in religious symbolism and the creative power of God, a symbol of heaven. But for Emily, I believe that the strongest creative power in her life was her power as a poet.

Science discovered that light contains all colors. When the eyes are failing and the dark approaches, blue is the last to remain. When the eye is adapted to the dark,  the color blue can be seen over a wider range of vision.

Vision is a process of the brain as much of as the eye. People that have sight restored to unseeing eyes may need to learn how to see. Dickinson’s poetry utilizes the brain and eye and pushes against human limitations.

Finally she could not see to see. Unlearning the skills of the temporal upon entering eternity. Her vision moves beyond the need of eyes. Those old skills will be surpassed.

Seeing what the bee sees, passing beyond the ultraviolet.


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