Charles Tennyson Turner was the lesser-known brother of Alfred Lord Tennyson. In ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book,’ Turner displays his own skill and understanding of the poetic verse. This particular poem focuses on the inevitability of death and how, like a book closing on a fly, death will come and close on everyone. He doesn’t speak about it mournfully or fearfully but simply as something that’s going to happen no matter what one does.
Explore On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker talks to a deceased fly that he’s found crushed in a book. He interprets its death as accidental, as though someone closed the book on it without meaning to. Despite this, he marvels over the fly’s wings and the imprint it left of its life.
As the poem progresses, he turns to talk about human life and death and how everyone is going to get crushed in the book of death eventually. But, unlike the fly, humanity won’t leave behind something as beautiful as the shimmer of the fly’s wings on the book pages.
In ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book,’ Turner primarily addresses the theme of the inevitability of death. He spends the first part of the poem admiring the fly, its untimely death, and what is left behind. Then, he transitions into a description of death as a feature of everyone’s life. The book is expanded and used as a metaphor for death as something that can come out of nowhere and take someone’s life. It can close at any moment as it did on the fly. It’s also clear by the end of the poem that the speaker doesn’t believe that human death could ever be as beautiful as the fly’s death. The shimmer of its wings proves that.
Structure and Form
‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book’ by Charles Tennyson Turner is a fourteen-line poem that follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDDCEFEFGG, which can be interpreted as an alternative sonnet form. This is backed up by the metrical pattern that comes through in the first lines. As most sonnets do, ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book’ makes use of iambic pentameter. This means that the lines, mostly, contain five sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed and the second stressed.
In ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book’ Turner makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to alliteration, caesura, and metaphor. The first of these, alliteration, is a common literary device that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “thou” and “thine” in line three and “hand” and “hurt” in line one.
There are examples of caesurae in ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book.’ One of the best is in line eight. It reads: “Now thou art gone. Our doom is ever near.” Caesurae occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. This might be with punctuation or with a natural pause in the meter. In the second half of the poem, the speaker uses the book that crushed the fly as a metaphor for death. It could come and close on anyone at any time.
Some hand, that never meant to do thee hurt,
Has crush’d thee here between these pages pent;
But thou hast left thine own fair monument,
Thy wings gleam out and tell me what thou wert:
In the first lines of ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book,’ the speaker begins by addressing the fly. This is a technique known as an apostrophe. The fly cannot understand the speaker, and even if it could, it can’t respond (because it’s a fly but also because it’s dead). He tells the fly that “Some hand” has done “thee hurt.” He believes that whoever crushed the fly in the book didn’t mean to do so, but it happened nonetheless. Although this is a terrible and unimpressive death, the fly has created a monument to its own life with its body. Its wings still “gleam out” and tell the speaker, who has come upon it, that “thou wert.” The fly was once alive, and now its presence in the book reminds everyone that comes upon it of that.
Oh! that the memories, which survive us here,
Where half as lovely as these wings of thine!
Pure relics of a blameless life, that shine
Now thou art gone. Our doom is ever near:
In the second stanza, the poet begins with the exclamation, “Oh!” He connects the fly’s monument, its tiny body in the book, to another kind of memory, those of life. He wishes that life’s memories were as beautiful, or “half as lovely,” as the vision of the fly in the book. Its wings are striking and connected with the speaker at that moment.
He continues to speak about the fly’s wings, telling it that the wings appear to him as “Pure relics of a blameless life.” The fly lived as a pure, sinless creature, doing what it was supposed to do every day without any misstep. Now, they continue to shin when “thou art is gone.” This reminds the speaker of his own mortality and that of everyone he knows and has ever known. In the second half of the eighth line, after the caesura, the speaker says that “Our doom is ever near.” This leads into the final six lines, or sestet, of the poem.
The peril is beside us day by day;
The book will close upon us, it may be,
Just as we lift ourselves to soar away
Upon the summer-airs. But, unlike thee,
The closing book may stop our vital breath,
Yet leave no lustre on our page of death.
In the ninth line of ‘‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book,’ the speaker, now directing his words out more broadly to whoever is reading or listening, saying that “peril is beside us day.” Death and danger are companions throughout life. Eventually, the same book that closed on the fly is going to “close upon us.” It’s clear that he’s interpreted the death of the fly as a broader metaphor for the death that’s going to come for everyone. It can take come just as we try to fly away into the summer air.
In the final two lines, the speaker draws a comparison between what humanity leaves behind compared to what the fly has left. “We,” he says, are not going to leave the “lustre” of our lives on “our page of death.” This is an allusion back to the shine of the fly’s wings in the previous line. It’s a marker of the fly’s life, something that humanity, the speaker says, is not going to have.
Readers who enjoyed ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book’ should also consider reading some similar pieces. For example, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson, ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ by Dylan Thomas, and ‘The Death Bed’ by Siegfried Sassoon. The latter describes the peaceful death of a soldier who suffered in the horrors of World War II. In Thomas’s poem, the speaker looks at the ways that death controls humankind. It’s powerful, but it can’t control everything, he concludes. Dickinson’s famous ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ is one of the best poems about death and its inevitability. It depicts death arriving for the speaker and taking her peacefully into the afterlife.