I heard a Fly buzz — when I died.
Dickinson’s time contained a high mortality rate for young people; as a result, there were frequent death-scenes in homes, and this factor contributed to her preoccupation with death, as well as her withdrawal from the world, her anguish over her lack of romantic love, and her doubts about fulfillment beyond the grave. Years ago, Emily Dickinson’s interest in death was often criticized as being morbid, but in our time readers tend to be impressed by her sensitive and imaginative handling of this painful subject.
“I heard a Fly buzz — when I died” (aka Poem 465) captures the last thoughts and sensations of a person on her death bed. Surrounded by mourners who are bracing themselves for her death, the narrator’s focus as she dies is on the most mundane of living creatures: a buzzing fly. The final ebb of consciousness is depicted as a loss of light and sight: “And then the Windows failed—and then / I could not see to see—.”