I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died by Emily Dickinson

Poem by Emily Dickinson:

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 portions 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 –

Video by Lynn Tomlinson. It won the Keith Clarke Prize for animation at the 1989 Ann Arbor Film Festival.

An eerie adaptation of the Emily Dickinson poem, told from after death. Created in clay-on-glass animation. This was my first film in this technique, made in 1989.

There are a number of other animations of this poem on YouTube, but none of them hold a candle to this one. Its only major flaw is the pixelation — perhaps the artist was trying to protect her work from being ripped off. In addition to the YouTube page linked above, Tomlinson has a proper website here.

[UPDATE 11/29/09] For a much higher quality version, see the video gallery on Tomlinson’s website.

[UPDATE 2/13/12] Higher-resolution version at Vimeo swapped in (see comments).


  1. Reply
    Bluegrass Poet 26 February, 2009

    Hmmm — a very different reading from one I would give it. Does the animation add or detract? Always good to rethink an old friend of a poem. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Dave Bonta 26 February, 2009

      Sherry, if you send a video of yourself reading the poem, I’ll be happy to post it!

  2. Reply
    Lynn 11 October, 2009

    It’s nice to see my piece here. My good friend Melissa Miller, now a political science professor, did the reading for me the year after we graduated from college. It was based on a reading by a professor I had in college, who said that the narrator “could not see – to see” because the fly had landed on her eye! So gruesome it stuck with me, and at a low and lonely time in my life, it seemed an apt project. It is still one of my favorite things I have made. I think the pixelly quality might be slightly better on my website, but it comes from technical constraints of properly digitizing the 16mm original. Perhaps I should re-do it now in HD, now that that is a possibility.

    • Reply
      Dave Bonta 12 October, 2009

      Hey, thanks for commenting and putting the film in the context of your life and career for us. If you do decide to re-do it in HD and post the new version to YouTube, please let me know and I’ll swap it in.

      That’s a very intriguing interpretation of “could not see – to see”!

  3. Reply

    […] all you need to make your point. (For a video of the complete poem, see Lynn Tomlinson’s clay-on-glass animation.) swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf", "vvq-1679-vimeo-1", "500", "375", "9", […]

  4. Reply

    […] I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died by Emily Dickinson […]

  5. Reply
    Lynn Tomlinson 13 February, 2012

    I posted a better resolution copy on Vimeo. Still not perfect, but better!


    -Lynn Tomlinson

  6. Reply
    Dave 13 February, 2012

    @Lynn Tomlinson
    Thanks! I’ve swapped it in.

    This was my very first post at Moving Poems, so I’m glad your film is not only still live on the web, but better than ever.

  7. Reply

    […] Poems was founded on February 23, 2009. The very first post featured a clay-on-glass animation of the Emily Dickinson poem “I heard a fly buzz when I […]

  8. Reply

    […] Back from the dead! It feels strangely personal like that to me, this undertaking I’ve been involved in for two weeks now after I inadvertently destroyed the web magazine Moving Poems, which had begun the way so many good things do, on a whim and an impulse, became far more influential than I’d ever expected or even perhaps wanted, and died in a moment of panic. Here’s the video I featured long ago in its very first post: […]

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