One student’s interpretation of ‘The Fly’

 

This five-stanza poem takes on a playful rhyme scheme and meter, despite its serious and somewhat morbid subject. Blake himself  compares himself to the fly because like the insect’s, his existence is insignificant: mortal (he too will be brushed off by a hand, in time) and devoted to apparently frivolous activities (“I dance and drink and sing”) which will be interrupted just as brutally as the fly’s “summer play”.This poem also returns to Blake’s theme in Songs of Experience of the place of thought in the quality and quantity of human life. The speaker harms the fly with his “thoughtless hand,” indicating that thoughtlessness leads to death. It is the concept of the lack of thought behind the fateful actions that Blake seeks to develop in this poem. Had the man given thought before brushing aside the fly he might not have done so, and he might have realised that he had the power of life and death in his hand. However, the fly does not know this, and its behaviour is unchanged because it has no way of knowing that its life could be about to end. I like this poem due to its seemingly simple appearance as it has a word count of only 69, but on closer inspection it is actually an in depth poem filled with a deep meaning. Are we as humans as insignificant as a fly?

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What are students’ favourite Blake poems on first reading?


 
 

My students finished reading ‘The Songs of Innocence and Experience’ today and then read out their favourite poems. It was interesting to see their diverse responses.

The first group chose: ‘The Fly’, ‘The Chimney Sweeper — Experience’, and ‘The Lilly’.

Harry says: “I like this poem because It uses the fly as a symbol of day to day life: it could be metaphoric in the sense that the fly represents different daily troubles.”

Millie: “I like the Chimney Sweeper I thought it showed the hypocrisy of the people living in Blake’s time who would go to church and then at same time neglect their children.”

Sophie: “I like London because it gives an insight into the context of the time; it shows how children were chimney sweepers, families were really struggling and everyone was unhappy.”

Nahum: “I liked the Lilly because it is saying that everything else has its opposite side; the Lilly stands out against the rest, she’s just there being beautiful. It can’t be touched by all this other stuff, the thorns, the roses can’t touch it or her. She’s on another level to everything else.”

Group 2:
The Chimney Sweeper: Innocence
The Ecchoing Green
The School Boy
The Clod and the Pebble

I was interested in the comment about ‘The Clod and the Pebble’ from a pupil who felt that the poem represented the problems we encounter in everyday life. ‘The Ecchoing Green’ was chosen because of the way it travelled through the different phases of the day. Interestingly, The Chimney Sweeper from the Songs of Innocence was chosen for its representation of the horrors of child slave labour and the terrible treatment of children generally.

I was fascinated to notice that some students were already beginning to sing and do drum beats to the poems.

Group 3:
Chimney Sweeper – Experience
The School Boy
Introduction to Innocence

This group liked the Introduction because of its happy atmosphere and its last line that invited every child to hear the poems.

Here are some more detailed, written responses from the students:

G writes:

The School Boy

I really liked this poem because it shows Blake’s anger and his protest against the destruction of innocence and youthful joy. The powerful animalistic imagery of the bird symbolizes freedom and innocence which is juxtaposed with the Cage which represents the education system 200 years ago. Blake’s self education influenced his views on education which we can still relate to today.

The Chimney Sweeper (experience)

The first line in this poem shows strong imagery of contrast between the black boy (covered in soot) and the snow which connotes innocence and heaven. This poem has a lot of anger in it.  I like the fact that Blake is attacking authority and blames parents for  inflicting cruelty on innocent children.

Introduction (innocence)

I like the way Blake sets the scene for his songs showing innocence throughout the introduction. He uses symbolism for religious purposes to show innocence such as the lamb and also children which is a main theme in his poems. The last line for me shows that the children are his audience, this could be why his songs of innocence seem very sweet and short?

Blake’s ‘The Fly’: “Am not I/A fly like thee?/Or art not thou/A man like me?”

songsie.b.p47-40.100

Little Fly
Thy summers play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

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

For I dance
And drink & sing:
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

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

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

You can compare different versions of the poem here.

Questions to answer on the poem

What effects are created when the poem is read aloud or sung?

What interests you most about the poem? Why?

What questions might you ask about the poem?

What is the poem about?

What effects does the language create?

What is the effect of the poem’s structure and form?

What are the similarities and differences between other texts?

How do other people interpret this poem? Find sources/links…

What might make a good creative response to the poem?

How might you teach this poem?