Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s grave stone in Amherst, Mass – photo – courtesy The Emily Dickinson Museum

Emily Dickinson died on this day, May 15, in Amherst, Mass, aged 55

Allen, (in 1975 at Naropa, from remarks made to his students):

“Her method is really amazing actually. Because she was just writing to herself and making notations, so all of her punctuation is just dashes in these poems – which is, actually, where I get a lot of my punctuation (from). I just saw her. “Oh, that’s the way she did (it) – of course!”)

re:”I heard a Fly buzz – when I died.”  (poem #591)

It wasn’t for magazine editors to see. 1862, published 1866..

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 –

So it’s a really good reduction of a whole field of consciousness to that one little fly. That’s one of my favorite poems, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died”, because …“”I heard a Fly buzz – when I died”… it’s so real)

There’s a great scene in (Tolstoy’s) War and Peace, where Prince Bolkonsky is lying on the battlefield and Napoleon rides by on a big horse and this horse with his rump is standing above Prince Bolkonsky who’s lying wounded on the field, eyes open, staring into the sky, totally indifferent to Napoleon, totally indifferent to the horse’s rump, just a vast sky, with all these generals hanging around, riding up with messages, Napoleon and everyone involved in their thoughts and their battle, but this guy at the edge of death is looking straight up, and looking straight up into infinite space and suddenly appreciating the infinite space for the first time. Those moments of total perception are interesting. It’s amazing that that moment of total perception would be “bzzzzz”. I was thinking, in the stillness.. I was waiting for the stillness and he was turning his pages and I could say, “I heard a page turn when I died” I heard the pages turn.

Student: How old was she when she wrote that?

AG: I don’t know. This is 1862…. [Editorial note -she was born, December 1830, so this wouold have made her 29 ,most likely]

Student: Was she (herself, perhaps) near dying?

AG: No, I don’t think so. That was 1862 (and) the later poems are 1884, so, no – by “die”, I think she meant the death of the ego, or the death of self-consciousness, opening up to a total clear moment when language stopped in the mind and it was nothing but total silence, and then observation of what’s going on outside without obstruction. So death of self-consciousness, or death of ego.

More on Emily Dickinson and dying – here

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