A moment of reflection and understanding


Little Fly,
Thy summer's play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink, and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.
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Insights, themes and ideas for interpretation

●  The poet takes a moment to consider his spontaneous and unthinking action of killing a fly.

●  It appears in a collection entitled ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ published in 1794, and if it seems more than a little mystical in tone we should not be surprised, due to the poet’s regular mystical visions and meditations.

●  In a moment of introspection and understanding, it occurs to him that the fly is a living creature like himself, and has its own unique existence - a life that, to the fly, might seem equally as important as the poet’s life seems to him.

●  The poet, realising that he too lives much of his life in a self-centred, creature-like existence (also dances, drinks and sings), concludes that at such times he might be no better or worse than the humble fly. He is equally as vulnerable - unaware of things that might be greater and more powerful than himself.

●  By considering the commonality between all living things, the implications of even our most insignificant deeds must be recognised (a view expressed in many mystical or religious teachings - as well as being quite a modern idea in terms of environment and conservation).

●  The poet also reflects that the very process of contemplating this idea, the process of thinking, is a sign of life, and that, on the other hand, death would perhaps be a state without thought and, therefore, without sorrow. He is happy - a happy fly - if he lives or if he dies.

Technical info’

Type of Poem =

a short philosophical poem consisting of 5 stanzas of 4 lines each (quatrains).

Rhyme Scheme =

ABCB - except the final stanza which is AABA.

Meter =

the lines are quite short, almost nursery-rhyme in style, and vary in length between 3 and 4 syllables.
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