It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. What if there were no pictures? What if there were only words? Rather than simply showing a picture to tell a setting, theme, feeling or mood, American literature writers use imagery to help readers visualize, create a mental picture, of the concepts within their masterpieces. With words like “a long and winding road” or “the cold and gloomy night air” one tends to develop a mental picture associated with the expressions. It is a writer’s use of imagery that can have a profound effect on their work. Emily Dickinson is a mastery of imagery and her Poem 591 (I heard a Fly buzz) illustrates the art brilliantly.
In the first stanza, the speaker is quick to convey image references for the reader. The first line immediately reveals, through the simple words “when I died,” that the speaker is dead. At this point one would have to wonder how can the speaker can be dead yet ...view middle of the document...
It is this “stillness” that leaves the reader with a mood of somberness.
In the second stanza the speaker illustrates that others present have expressed their grief and have gathered around the speakers deathbed awaiting the final moments as “the Eyes around – had wrung them dry – And Breaths were gathering firm” (5 - 6) when her breathing signifies the end is near “For the last Onset –“ (7) leaves the reader with the image of their loved on taking their last breath and ultimate passing “when the King” (7) enters the room for this chosen one. Metaphorically speaking, the reader envisions their God, King, or Savior entering the room, although no one else can see him, to retrieve his child and take them on their spiritual eternal journey.
The speaker seems resolved and accepting of the impending death as she states “I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away What portion of me be Assignable” (9 – 11) producing the image of a will that has been prepared and her belongings having been dispersed accordingly, except for a small soulful piece which, at the moment is unassignable. Suddenly, “Between the light – and me” (14) appears a fly which distracts the speaker from a bright light, commonly believed to be seen near death. This fly being attracted to the bright light, and distracting the speaker from it, leaves the reader wondering if the speaker envisioned herself ascending, or flying, to the heavens only “then the Windows failed.” (15) From this, the mental image of a fly slamming into a closed window is depicted and leaves the reader possibly wondering about the speakers soulful journey because “then [she] could not see to see – “ (16) portrays her actual death, the final closing of the eyes.
Emily Dickinson’s Poem 591 contains only 16 lines and although it is short, she successfully uses imagery in nearly every line. Her masterpiece contains specific and concrete details that lead the reader picturing a gloomy deathbed scene in which loved ones are gathered near for another’s last moments of life and the parting soul into eternity, only the soul has been robbed of this joyful journey by the simple, yet distracting, buzzing of an annoying fly.