I heard a Fly buzz-when I died

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Whitman/Dickinson Study Guide

Short Answer

1. In “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—,” what does the image of the fly seem to convey? Explain why you did or did not choose each answer.

a. the annoyance of having people around her as she lay dying

b. the windows being open by mistake, allowing a fly to enter

c. her amazement that she could hear so well

d. her intense awareness at the moment of death, including the ongoing everyday life of nature

2. In “Because I could not stop for Death—,” Dickinson uses several slant rhymes. These pairs do not rhyme by using precise sound but by using approximate sound. Sometimes, one of the words in the slant rhyming pattern will have more syllables than the other word. Provide four examples of pairs with slant rhymes from the poem.

3. In “My life closed twice before its close—,” Dickinson writes that “Parting is all we know of heaven, And all we need of hell.” What do these two lines imply? Select the answer that best interprets the lines. Give the quotation from another part of the poem that reveals Dickinson’s attitude.

a. Parting gives us a glimpse of what heaven may be like.

b. Parting gives us a glimpse of what hell may be like.

c. Parting is a part of life that we should learn to accept.

d. Parting, as in the death that leads to heaven, is painful to human beings.

4. Choose four examples of pairs of slant rhymes (approximate) or exact (precise) rhymes from “The Soul selects her own Society—.” Fill in the chart below, and label each type of rhyme.










5. In “There’s a certain Slant of light,” Dickinson uses a visual image to capture a larger idea. Reread the poem, and provide the image. Then, define the abstract concept to which Dickinson refers.

6. In “There’s a certain Slant of light,” Dickinson refers to a light “That oppresses, like the Heft / Of Cathedral Tunes.” What is the meaning of oppresses? Reread the poem, and circle the letter of the answer. On the lines below, add two details, including the context clue that provides the reader with the meaning of the word, and give the reason that the word oppresses is so effective in this poem.

a. embraces the mind with warmth b. weighs heavily on the mind

c. surrounds the mind with pleasantness d. conquers the mind’s unruly thoughts

7. In “There is a solitude of space,” what does Dickinson suggest about the depth of one’s soul compared to other experiences of vastness? Reread the poem, then interpret the comparisons and what you perceive to be her attitude toward the soul.

8. Reread “There is a solitude of space.” What does finite mean?

a. the crowded feeling of society b. uncomfortable

c. limited d. thoughtless

9. Reread the first stanza of “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—.” Which of these, the brain or the sky, contains the other “with ease”? Is this what we would ordinarily expect? Why, or why not?

10. There are three concrete images and abstract concepts that are paired in “Water, is taught by thirst.” Find the three pairs, labeling each word in the pair as concrete (experienced through the five senses) or as abstract (experienced through thought or feeling).

11. How do the ideas expressed in the first paragraph of the preface to Leaves of Grass act as a helpful defense for Whitman’s use of free verse in his poetry? Use a detail from the paragraph to support your answer.

a. He is concerned that Americans are obsessed with the past.

b. He suggests that Americans throw away past notions of politics and religion.

c. He likens the past to a corpse that has been around too long.

d. He suggests that we learn from the past and then move forward to use what is appropriate for the present.

12. In Whitman’s descriptive choices for the imagery in the preface to Leaves of Grass, he uses the United States as an example of a particular kind of nation. Provide three examples of images of America that contribute to his overall positive impression.

13. Reread section 1 in “Song of Myself.” How is Whitman’s emphasis on the individual confirmed by the style in which he writes? Cite examples of his content as well as the rhythm of his writing.

14. In “Song of Myself,” Whitman mentions “creeds and schools in abeyance.” What is the meaning of the word abeyance? Explain why you did or did not choose each answer.

a. abundance b. temporary suspension or stopping

c. part of his everyday life d. a period of revolt

15. What can you assume about Whitman’s attitude in section 17 of “Song of Myself”? What type of person does he seem to be? Explain the answer you have chosen by using a quotation from the poem.

a. He is unconcerned about others.

b. He thinks he is the only person in the universe.

c. He is conceited.

d. He values his individuality and that of others.

16. Who or what might the “listener” represent in section 51 of “Song of Myself”? Explain what a reader might infer about the listener’s identity, using a detail to support your opinion.

17. In “I Hear America Singing,” Whitman offers examples of the people who contribute to the American spirit. Complete the diagram below, listing examples of these individuals on the diagonal lines, and, on the horizontal lines, add the descriptions that Whitman provides for each of them.

18. In “I Hear America Singing,” Whitman’s portrayal of people all over America, singing as they are engaged in their daily tasks, describes an energetic nation of individuals. In addition, he uses adjectives to strengthen his imagery. Cite five of these adjectives that add to his portrait of a young and vital country.

19. How do the images in “A Noiseless Patient Spider” and “By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame” relate to similar ideas? Give details from each poem that support your answer choice.

a. Each poem represents humans dealing with nature.

b. Each poem addresses itself to the futility of life.

c. Each poem depicts a human being who is searching.

d. Each poem depicts an anguished struggle.

20. How can one account for Whitman’s feelings of illness as he listens to an astronomy lecture? How does he help himself to feel better? Use details from “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” to validate your answer.

21. What is the overall concept that Dickinson seems to be dealing with in “I heard a Fly Buzz—when I died—,” “Because I could not stop for Death—,” “My life closed twice before its close—,” “The Soul selects her own Society,” “There’s a certain Slant of light,” “There is a solitude of space,” “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—,” and “Water, is taught by thirst”? In a brief essay, examine three ways she expresses this concept. Use details from her poetry in your response.

22. In the chart below, list some of the many animals Whitman describes in section 14 of “Song of Myself.” Then, in a short essay, use two details from the poem to suggest Whitman’s feelings toward nature and the outdoor life.

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