I’ve long been intrigued by Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Dying” (a.k.a. “I heard a Fly buzz–when I died”). While I don’t think it jives with the fascinating near death experiences of those who have come back (for whatever value they have), I find it to be a clever and beautiful work dealing with her uncertainty about death, with hints of and doubts about an afterlife.
Now I’m pleased to report that a fine poet, Gerald Long, has given me permission to post his intriguing work that builds on Dickinson’s poem. Gerald lives in Salt Lake City and is an old friend of mine from my days at Brighton High School. He’s a very intelligent and interesting person and an excellent writer. In case you are wondering, he is not LDS and disagrees with many of religious views, which is fine. I have high respect for him.
Interestingly, the insights in the poem below have parallels with some concepts in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is with great pleasure that I present the following work of Gerald Long:
Constructs of an Unseen Fly Buzzing in the Room
1. The Fly Does Not Exist:
This would mean that it consumes nothing: not
air or water, not
food, not sound either
as in the sound of a crouching
spider flecking its beady
consuming eyes. There is nothing
2. The Fly is Conscious
It hears itself, that is
if it is not totally contained
in its own sound; that it hears
something besides itself.
Perhaps it feels the sounding
of movement across the cosmos
of things. This would mean
that it is not everything.
3. The Fly is a Part of My Consciousness
I consumer aspects
of the fly; its buzzing, its undeniable
black nature, its movement
behind the curtain. The fly is
big in my brain. It’s all
I can think of.
4. I Am the Fly
This is understood by the greater
consciousness. The fly
is not aware of time. The greater
consciousness fills in perimeters
of the fly’s world. The fly
has a thousand eyes and a myriad
of visions for each.
The fly does not see
these. The greater
consciousness deciphers and sends
them buzzing out of the fly
and into the room: The way
I dance to its crazy sound.
If I am following the poem properly, it portrays different levels of understanding of the fly. The fly’s own self-awareness is trivial – and if it is taken as a symbol of death and decay, then nothingness may be seem to be its nature, at least superficially). At the end of the progression toward higher levels of understanding, a greater, external consciousness can understand the fly so well that it can, in a sense, be the fly, deciphering the meaning of its life and understanding its myriad visions and its sounds. The response to what may seem like a crazy sound can be the beauty of a dance.
When I read this poem, I cannot help but think of one of my favorite passages of scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 76:92-94:
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things–where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace.
Those who receive the fullness of the grace of Christ and the indescribable gift of eternal life in the presence of the Father find that they have become part of that “greater consciousness” that allows them to see as they are seen and know as they are known. Right now we hardly know who we are – only God does, He who can truly and beautifully dance to our crazy sound. Becoming one with Christ, becoming like Him (1 John 3:2; John 17), will one day “fill in the perimeters” of our world, give meaning to the seemingly conflicting visions that confuse our eyes and minds, and help us see and decipher what only seems like confusion now. (FWIW, the same passage of scripture was one thought behind an old poem of mine called “Flatland.”)
Jerry, thanks for sharing an interesting poem with the LDS community.
FYI, Jerry’s most recent poem, not yet published, is brilliant, and I can’t wait to see it published. It offers a dark, pained, inquiring view, searching for the possibility of God in a chaotic and troubling world. When you LDS writers finally see it, I hope someone out there might offer an equally brilliant response pointing to the power of Christ and His Atonement to heal, wipe away our tears, decipher the conflicting, anguished visions that assault our gaze, and find meaning and beauty in our crazy buzzing.