Flies Show Up Everywhere -- Even
Flies are very common insects. So common that almost everyone recognizes
a fly when they see one. We may know flies, but we don't necessarily like
them. Our dislike is based on several things. Some species develop in
dead animals and garbage. A few flies carry disease organisms. There are
also biting flies.
It is this general hate of flies that has allowed them to creep into
a surprising number of poems. Some of the world's best-known poets have
waxed eloquently about these two-winged insects.
Even ancient writers saw fit to include flies in their works. For instance
Homer. In his Epics, Homer described the Greek host at Troy "as numerous
as flies near the farmer's milk in spring time."
William Shakespeare tossed a few flies into his works. Among his well-chosen
words, he used the term "worm" for fly maggots on dead bodies,
such as "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, eat up thy charge?
Is this thy body's end?" Also, "The prey of worms, my body being
Shakespeare noticed the mating habits of flies and, in "King Lear,"
writes "the small gilded fly does lecher in my sight." He also
used the example of amorous flies in criticizing Romeo: "more courtship
lives in carrion flies than Romeo."
William Olyds wrote a short poem entitled "The Fly." In the
poem, Olyds suggests that both humans and flies should make the most of
their lives because, relatively speaking, both are short! A third William
associated with Old English literature, as in William Blake, also wrote
a "The Fly" poem. In his poem, Blake compares humans to flies
and wonders if life is more meaningful to humans than to flies.
Emily Dickinson followed the theme of flies and death with one of her
more famous poems, "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died." In this
case, a fly interfered with her long-anticipated death by buzzing around
the room. The fly was a blue bottle fly, a species that lays eggs on dead
Probably the most complete look at people's distaste for flies in poetry
is Karl Shapiro's "The Fly." In this poem, Shapiro gets right
to the heart of the matter with his first line, "O hideous little
bat, the size of snot."
The poet mentions many of the things that we dislike about flies, such
as living in compost piles, making buzzing sounds and leaving fly specks
where they rest. In addition, Shapiro points out that flies antagonize
horses and carry disease. But humans fight back with insecticides and
sticky traps. Yet our real delight is when we are able to swat a fly into
an unsightly little splat! Shapiro also notes that flies buzz in the key
of "F." Which is probably more than most of us want to know
Even children's poet Jack Prelutsky gets on the poems-about-flies bandwagon.
His untitled poem goes: "Curious fly, Vinegar jug. Slippery edge,
Ogden Nash also has a poem, "The Fly," which, as you have no
doubt noted, is a very popular title for fly poems. Nash says, "God
in his wisdom created the fly, and then forgot to tell us why." Could
it be that the answer is so that we have something to swat?