The Fly - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The simplicity of the diction enhances the impression of the poem as a simple, straightforward argument. However, in choice of language and in use of rhetorical devices, the poem is less straightforward. The use of rhetorical questions in stanza two anticipates that we will agree with the speaker, rather than consider the issues:

  • The comparison of the speaker's ‘thoughtless hand' with the ‘blind hand' of a nameless power is not substantiated
  • The suggestion of impersonality in the second use of ‘hand', builds upon the notion of blindness, to suggest that humanity is subject to a nameless force that has no awareness of humanity
  • The human activities mentioned – dancing, drinking, singing - all suggest what is both enjoyable but also transitory, thereby pursuing the likeness of humankind to the fly.

These ideas persuade the reader into accepting the speaker's stance.

Investigating language and tone

  • Look carefully at stanza two
    • If you took the questions there as real – rather than rhetorical – questions, how would you answer them?
    • What difference would this make to the way in which you read the rest of the poem?

Structure and versification

The simple iambic dimeter of many lines creates an association with a nursery rhyme to which the reader may respond in simplicity or see the sentiments expressed as being overly simplistic.

The ABCB rhyme changes in the last stanza to AABA. It helps to give an air of finality to the closing argument, linking ‘fly' and ‘I'. Just as the logic does not actually follow through, so the rhyme also does not do so. We may not consciously register the change of rhyme. Equally, the poem suggests, we may not notice the logic-chopping in the poem.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Did you notice the change in rhyme?
    • What significance did this suggest to you?
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